Agenda Control and Electoral Success in the US House

David Fortunato, Nathan W. Monroe

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review


Cartel Theory (Cox and McCubbins 1993; Cox and McCubbins 2005) – and much of the subsequent scholarship on parties in the US House – is founded on the assumption that there is an essential link between how a party performs in government and how it performs in elections. In Cox and McCubbins’ (1993) initial formulation, quoted above, the electoral value of the party record – or ‘party brand’ – provides the incentive needed to solve the coordination and collective action problems inherent in a policy-making body composed of members with diverse preferences beholden to constituencies with diverse interests. In subsequent work, Cox and McCubbins (2005) further clarified (as demonstrated in the second quote above) that the essential mechanism used to manage the party record is agenda control. In other words, they assume that what does (and does not) get on the legislative agenda determines some portion of the electoral reward or punishment shared by all majority-party members. This supposition has become commonplace in the congressional literature (for example, Grynaviski 2010; Kim and LeVeck 2013), yet an essential implication has never been tested: does successful legislative agenda control improve the electoral fortunes of majority-party members (and vice versa)? In this letter, we test the hypothesis that, as the majority party in the US House is more successful at managing the legislative agenda, majority-party members’ individual electoral performances improve. We do not find support for the hypothesis. As we discuss in the conclusion, we cannot say definitively that the null result disproves this key model assumption, and it certainly does not disprove Cartel Theory. Still, this surprising null finding at a minimum raises questions about the particular mechanisms that incentivize congressional agenda control, which we believe to be of increasing importance as the theory continues to be exported to countries around the world such as Brazil (Neto et al. 2003), Japan (Cox et al. 2000), Israel (Akirav et al. 2010), Italy (Cox et al. 2008) and others.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Political Science
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1583-1592
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • US Congress
  • Agenda setting
  • Parties
  • Cartel model
  • Elections

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