At the center of this proposal lies an ambitious empirical effort to better understand the dynamics of legislative performance in Congress (at this stage of the work, in the 125 years from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 to 2002) that is grounded in a new theoretically-derived coding scheme to classify legislation and roll call votes by policy area. The project's ambition is to code all public statutes and roll calls from the first Congress to the present by utilizing this substantive approach to policy classification.
Having developed, refined, and tested this method for data collection and analysis, the project is deploying this tool to address and overcome limits posed by some leading features of current congressional research: the focus on short time series in the post-World War II period; the lack of content specification in the major preference-based and institutional theories addressing issues of legislative performance; and the measurement of productivity by simple counts without making the substance of what is produced an object of analysis. Thus at the heart of the proposal is an ambitious data measurement and collection effort that can advance the research the project has launched on the sources and character congressional outputs which are coded by policy type, significance, and discretionary content. This work also is geared to provide a public good for the profession in helping to place congressional studies as they develop on a more secure substantive basis.
This proposal involves data collection and analysis efforts in two main areas. The researchers seek support to finish collecting the project's public statutes data. For the post-1946 period, it is possible to draw on NSF supported research, particularly the monumental effort of Baumgartner and Jones. The project also seeks support to help finish coding these public statutes and the full set of roll call data by its policy classification scheme. The research program's initial efforts have begun to lead to a widely useful dataset, and to initial papers and publications elaborating its rationale and discussing initial findings.
The broader impact of this proposal involves placing policy substance front and center. This research program has begun to develop fresh data on the substance of policy over a long period and to use this data to rigorously test and extend existing and new theory about legislative behavior. In the quest to think about legislative performance and related issues substantively, three traditions in the discipline are being joined: an older, presently inactive tradition of research on the difference made by variations in policy substance; currently robust scholarship on preferences and institutions; and themes in the historically-oriented subfield of American Political Development (APD) that has been especially interested in apprehending how large-scale changes to institutions, elections, the economy, and geopolitics map into policy outputs.