Skip to main content Accessibility help

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



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.


Corresponding author

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


Hide All

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:



Hide All
Alemán, Eduardo, Calvo, Ernesto, Jones, Mark P., and Kaplan, Noah. 2009. “Comparing Cosponsorship and Roll-Call Ideal Points.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 34 (1): 87116.
Aronow, Peter M., and Samii, Cyrus. 2017. “Estimating Average Causal Effects under General Interference, with Application to a Social Network Experiment.” The Annals of Applied Statistics 11 (4): 1912–47.
Bergan, Daniel E. 2009. “Does Grassroots Lobbying Work? A Field Experiment Measuring the Effects of an E-Mail Lobbying Campaign on Legislative Behavior.” American Politics Research 37 (2): 327–52.
Bimber, Bruce. 1991. “Information as a Factor in Congressional Politics.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 16 (4): 585605.
Bullock, John G., Green, Donald P., and Ha, Shang E.. 2010. “Yes, but What’s the Mechanism? (Don’t Expect an Easy Answer).” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 98 (4): 550–8.
Bogue, Allan G., and Marlaire, Mark P.. 1975. “Of Mess and Men: The Boardinghouse and Congressional Voting, 1821–1842.” American Journal of Political Science 19 (2): 207–30.
Bowers, Jake, Fredrickson, Mark M., and Panagopoulos, Costas. 2013. “Reasoning about Interference between Units: A General Framework.” Political Analysis 21 (1): 97124.
Box-Steffensmeier, Janet, Ryan, Josh M., and Sokhey, Anand E.. 2015. “Examining Legislative Cue-Taking in the US Senate.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 40 (1): 1353.
Butler, Daniel M., and Broockman, David E.. 2011. “Do Politicians Racially Discriminate against Constituents? A Field Experiment on State Legislators.” American Journal of Political Science 55 (3): 463–77.
Butler, Daniel M., Karpowitz, Christopher F., and Pope, Jeremey C.. 2012. “A Field Experiment on Legislators’ Home Styles: Service versus Policy.” The Journal of Politics 74 (2): 474–86.
Butler, Daniel M., and Nickerson, David. 2011. “Can Learning Constituency Opinion Affect How Legislators Vote? Results from a Field Experiment.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 6 (1): 5583.
Canes-Wrone, Brandice, Brady, David W., and Cogan, John F.. 2002. “Out of Step, Out of Office: Electoral Accountability and House Members’ Voting.” American Political Science Review 96 (1): 127–40.
Clark, Jennifer H., and Caro, Veronica. 2013. “Multimember Districts and the Substantive Representation of Women: An Analysis of Legislative Cosponsorship Networks.” Politics and Gender 9 (1): 130.
Coppock, Alexander. 2014. “Information Spillovers: Another Look at Experimental Estimates of Legislator Responsiveness.” Journal of Experimental Political Science 1 (2): 159–69.
Coppock, Alexander. 2016. “Information Spillovers: Another Look at Experimental Estimates of Legislator Responsiveness—CORRIGENDUM.” Journal of Experimental Political Science 3 (2): 206–8.
Fong, Christian. 2018. “Expertise, Networks, and Interpersonal Influence in Congress.” The Journal of Politics, Forthcoming.
Foos, Florian, and de Rooij, Eline A.. 2017. “All in the Family: Partisan Disagreement and Electoral Mobilization in Intimate Networks—A Spillover Experiment.” American Journal of Political Science 61 (2): 289304.
Gelman, Andrew, and Hill, Jennifer. 2006. Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Gerber, Alan S., and Green, Donald P.. 2012. Field Experiments: Design, Analysis, and Interpretation . New York, NY: W.W. Norton.
Gilligan, Thomas W., and Krehbiel, Keith. 1987. “Collective Decision-making and Standing Committees: An Informational Rationale for Restrictive Amendment Procedures.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 3 (2): 287335.
Hammond, Susan W. 2001. Congressional Caucuses in National Policymaking. Baltimore, MD: JHU Press.
Harbridge, Laurel. 2015. Is Bipartisanship Dead? Policy Agreement and Agenda-Setting in the House of Representatives . New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Highton, Benjamin, and Rocca, Michael. 2005. “Beyond the Roll-Call Arena: The Determinants of Position Taking in Congress.” Political Research Quarterly 58 (2): 303–16.
Hudgens, Michael G., and Halloran, M. Elizabeth. 2008. “Toward Causal Inference with Interference.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 103 (482): 832–42.
Kalla, Joshua L., and Broockman, David E.. 2015. “Campaign Contributions Facilitate Access to Congressional Officials: A Randomized Field Experiment.” American Journal of Political Science 60 (3): 545–58.
Kessler, Daniel, and Krehbiel, Keith. 1996. “Dynamics of Cosponsorship.” American Political Science Review 90 (3): 555–66.
Kingdon, John W. 1973. Congressmen’s Voting Decisions. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Koger, Gregory. 2003. “Position Taking and Cosponsorship in the US House.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 28 (2): 225–46.
Krehbiel, Keith. 1991. Information and Legislative Organization. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Krehbiel, Keith. 1995. “Cosponsors and Wafflers from A to Z.” American Journal of Political Science 39 (4): 906–23.
Lugar, Richard. 2017. Bipartisan Index. Washington, D.C.: The Lugar Center. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
Masket, Seth E. 2008. “Where You Sit Is Where You Stand: The Impact of Seating Proximity on Legislative Cue-Taking.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 3 (3): 301–11.
Matthews, Donald R., and Stimson, James A.. 1975. Yeas and Nays: Normal Decision-Making in the U.S. House of Representatives. New York, NY: Wiley.
Mayhew, David R. 1974. Congress: The Electoral Connection . New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Mill, John S. 1861. Considerations on Representative Government . London, United Kingdom: Parker, Son, & Bourn.
Nickerson, David W. 2008. “Is Voting Contagious? Evidence from Two Field Experiments.” American Political Science Review 102 (1): 4957.
Peress, Michael. 2013. “Estimating Proposal and Status Quo Locations Using Voting and Cosponsorship Data.” The Journal of Politics 75 (3): 613–31.
Ringe, Nils, Victor, Jennifer N., and Carman, Christopher J.. 2013. Bridging the Information Gap: Legislative Member Organizations as Social Networks in the United States and the European Union. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Rocca, Michael S., and Sanchez, Gabriel R.. 2007. “The Effect of Race and Ethnicity on Bill Sponsorship and Cosponsorship in Congress.” American Politics Research 36 (1): 130–52.
Rogowski, Jon C., and Sinclair, Betsy. 2012. “Estimating the Causal Effects of Social Interaction with Endogenous Networks.” Political Analysis 20 (3): 316–28.
Shalizi, Cosma R., and Thomas, Andrew C.. 2011. “Homophily and Contagion Are Generically Confounded in Observational Social Network Studies.” Sociological Methods & Research 40 (2): 211–39.
Sinclair, Betsy, McConnell, Margaret, and Green, Donald P.. 2012. “Detecting Spillover Effects: Design and Analysis of Multilevel Experiments.” American Journal of Political Science 56 (4): 1055–69.
Squire, Peverill. 2007. “Measuring State Legislative Professionalism: The Squire Index Revisited.” State Politics and Policy Quarterly 7 (2): 211–27.
Talbert, Jeffery C., and Potoski, Matthew. 2002. “Setting the Legislative Agenda: The Dimensional Structure of Bill Cosponsoring and Floor Voting.” The Journal of Politics 64 (3): 864–91.
Treadway, William E. 1938. “Problems Peculiar to the Short-Session Legislature.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 195 (1): 110–15.
Wawro, Gregory J. 2000. Legislative Entrepreneurship in the US House of Representatives . Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Wojcik, Stefan. 2018. “Do Birds of a Feather Vote Together, or Is It Peer Influence?Political Research Quarterly 71 (1): 7587.
Woon, Jonathan. 2008. “Bill Sponsorship in Congress: The Moderating Effect of Agenda Positions on Legislative Proposals.” The Journal of Politics 70 (1): 201–16.
Zelizer, Adam. 2018. “How Responsive Are Legislators to Policy Information? Evidence from a Field Experiment in a State Legislature.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 43 (4): 595618.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Zelizer supplementary material

 PDF (254 KB)
254 KB
Supplementary materials

Zelizer Dataset



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed