Panel Paper: “Policy in Action: An Agent-Based Simulation of Congressional Productivity and the Impact of Partisan Polarization

Monday, April 10, 2017 : 9:00 AM
HUB 260 (University of California, Riverside)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jake Campbell and Roger J. Chin, Claremont Graduate University

The federal government is often under the intense scrutiny of the news media, and recently the United States Congress has been constantly under the spotlight. The United States Congress is a pertinent legislative organization tasked with enacting laws and policies that affects the lives of the United States populace. The United States 113th Congress (January 3, 2013 to January 3, 2015) was considered one of the least productive and most polarized along ideological lines in the history of the United States. While some scholars may assert that the low productivity was due to a divided and acrimonious government, the 104th and 110th Congresses could pass bills into law while facing similar obstacles. 

The multitude of micro-level interactions between parties, representatives, committees, lobbyists, interest groups, donors, and constituents comprise the operation of Congress. In recent years, Congress members have had difficulty compromising, cooperating, and working effectively with each other. This led to a government shutdown in 2013, with another government shutdown nearly occurring again in 2014. The current academic studies on Congress and public policy have generally focused on one category of micro-level interaction, to the exclusion of explaining complex and broad trends of behavior. This existent literature does not explain how Congress could have come to a virtual standstill in 2014.

This paper proposes that, given the complex and multifaceted nature of Congress, only advanced methodological techniques can provide the capability to discern the components of the convoluted and dynamic system that has arisen over the course of the 113 assemblages. This research aims to use agent-based modeling to illustrate the complexities and challenges of partisanship, polarization, and productivity. The implementation of an agent-based model allows for the opportunity to advance the literature and to have a better understanding of the legislative phenomena. Simulation results suggest that the willingness to compromise, institutional constraints, and polarization have a significant effect on the productivity level of the United States Congress and thus the policy process.