Measuring Influence in a Southern State Legislature


To observe influence in the personalized ephemeral politics of a southern legislature, we used three measures. The first — attributes of influences — employed individual, district, and ideological characteristics. The second — reputation for influence — utilized reputation for effectiveness in the legislative process and reputation as one from whom advice is sought. The third measured actually getting something from the legislative process. We devised a new method of indexing this, developing a Ten‐Point Continuum which indicated how far members' bills had gotten along the legislative route.

Before summarizing the above relationships, it should be noted that bills are handled (conflict resolved) in a definite pattern in this southern state legislature, and this pattern is consistent over time and across chambers. The pattern is first that most bills are enacted. The personalized style of southern politics is reflected in a "politics of accommodation" of as many members as possible. Second, among those bills not enacted, most (about half) are stymied at the very earliest stage, either by the sponsor withdrawing it or the committee simply taking no action. Third, the remaining half of bills not enacted are defeated over the wide variety of possible maneuvers.

Regarding relationships, in general the two measures of influence are affected by individual legislator and district characteristics only weakly to mildly, while seniority and institutional position display moderately strong associations. Success at getting bills passed is weakly influenced by any personal, district or institutional factors. Moreover, the direction of the relationships are not always consistent. The association between the measures of influence and success at bill‐enactment is very weak to non‐existent. (The two measures of reputation are moderately related).

We are not surprised to find these relationships in a legislature that operates on personalized politics. In such a system, as many members are accommodated as possible. This is reflected in the bill‐passage rate, which is the highest among American state legislatures (Rosenthal: 258). If most members get what they want, then individual and district characteristics, as well as reputation for influence are not crucial. Seniority and institutional positions provide the bases for reputational influence and contribute mildly to members' capacity to get their bills enacted. The exceedingly low or non‐existent relationship between gender and influence/bill‐passage success is encouraging; the slight, but negative relationship between race and bill‐passage success requires continued attention and study. Finally, we suspect that variables not conceptualized in this research may account for considerable influence in one party‐no party state legislatures, variables such as interpersonal skills, ambition, and willingness to work at legislative tasks other than dealing with one's district.


Political Science

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Southeastern Political Review