Party Discipline in the U.S. House of Representatives

Kathryn Pearson
A breakthrough study that looks at the disciplinary measures which party leaders employ to command loyalty from members


Political party leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives command greater loyalty than ever from fellow party members in roll call votes, campaign contributions, and partisan speeches. In return, leaders reward compliant members with opportunities to promote constituent interests and to advance their own political careers. Denial of such privileges as retribution against those who don’t fully support the party agenda may significantly damage a member’s prospects.

Kathryn Pearson examines the disciplinary measures that party leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives employ to exact such loyalty, as well as the consequences for a democratic legislature. Drawing upon data from 1987–2010, Pearson identifies the conditions under which party leaders opt to prioritize policy control and those which induce them to prioritize majority control. She then assesses the ways in which these choices affect, on one hand, the party’s ability to achieve its goals, and on the other hand, rank-and-file members’ ability to represent their constituents. Astute party leaders recognize the need for balance, as voters could oust representatives who repeatedly support the party’s agenda over their constituents’ concerns, thereby jeopardizing the number of seats their party holds.

In her conclusion, Pearson discusses the consequences of party discipline such as legislative gridlock, stalled bills, and proposals banned from the agenda. Although party discipline is likely to remain strong as citizens become more cognizant of enforced party loyalty, their increasing dissatisfaction with Congress may spur change.

“This will become a significant work in the field of congressional studies . . . [opening] the study of party discipline in the House, the Senate and American-style policymaking legislatures more generally to systematic scholarly inquiry. In doing so, it will become a mainstay in the study of party leadership and party cohesion in the Congress, particularly for students of the House. It is a breakthrough book for the field.”
—Lawrence C. Dodd, University of Florida

“. . . one of the best brief treatments I have seen of the changing role of seniority in the selection of House committee chairs, including how seniority plays a different role in chair selection in the House Democratic and Republican parties.”
—Randall Strahan, Emory University

Kathryn Pearson is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota.

Praise / Awards

  • "The clear text makes the many tables and graphs accessible to readers interested in politics...Recommended."

  • "Pearson’s analyses are careful and well-directed...When scholars next address this topic, they will do well to build upon Pearson’s valuable and timely study."
    --Congress & the Presidency

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 224pp.
  • 26 tables, 30 figures.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11961-5

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  • $74.95 U.S.

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  • US Congress, U.S. Congress, Party leaders, U.S. House of Representatives, Legislature, Majority control, Party discipline