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Is Position-Taking Contagious? Evidence of Cue-Taking from Two Field Experiments in a State Legislature

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2019

The University of Chicago
*Adam Zelizer, Postdoctoral Researcher, Harris School of Public Policy, The University of Chicago,


Cue-taking is thought to be influential because legislators seek information from like-minded, trusted policy experts. Unfortunately for researchers, this self-selection process complicates efforts to separate the causal effects of cues from the tendency of legislators to communicate with similar peers. Prior causally-oriented research has estimated cues’ effects in exogenous networks, but not in the naturally-occurring communication networks that legislators themselves choose to form. This study examines cue-taking with two legislative field experiments, with over 2,000 observations in total, that model the diffusion of a randomly-assigned information treatment across an endogenous legislative network. Experimental results reinforce findings from classic interview-based studies of self-selected communication networks by Matthews and Stimson (1975) and Kingdon (1973): cue-taking influences a large percentage of policy positions and occurs late in the policymaking process. I also contribute to the literature by showing that on average cues complement, rather than substitute for, policy information from other sources of expertise within the legislature.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2019 

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The author wishes to express his appreciation to Greg Wawro, Don Green, Anthony Fowler, Florian Foos, and Alex Coppock for providing comments on versions of this paper, to Trish Kirkland, Winston Lin, and Peter Aronow for helpful discussions on the research design, to attendees to the CSAP American Politics Conference 2017 for their questions and comments, and to Mary Catherine Sullivan for excellent research assistance. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



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