Skip to main content Accessibility help

Competing Gridlock Models and Status Quo Policies

  • Jonathan Woon (a1) and Ian Palmer Cook (a1)


Spatial theories of lawmaking predict that legislative productivity is increasing in the number of status quo policies that lie outside the gridlock interval, but because locations of status quo policies are difficult to measure, previous empirical tests of gridlock theories rely on an auxiliary assumption that the distribution of status quo points is fixed and uniform. This assumption is at odds with the theories being tested, as it ignores the history dependence of lawmaking. We provide an alternative method for testing competing theories by estimating structural models that explicitly account for temporal dependence in a theoretically consistent way. Our analysis suggests that legislative productivity depends both on parties and supermajority pivots, and we find patterns of productivity consistent with a weaker, contingent form of party influence than found in previous work. Parties appear to exert agenda power only on highly salient legislation rather than strongly influencing outcomes through voting pressure and party unity.


Corresponding author

e-mail: (corresponding author)


Hide All

Authors' note: A previous version was presented at the Positive Political Theory Mini-Conference at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, New Orleans, LA. Replication material can be found at the Political Analysis Dataverse (Woon and Cook 2015). Supplementary materials for this article are available on the Political Analysis web site.



Hide All
Aldrich, John H. 1995. Why parties? The origin and transformation of political parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Binder, Sarah. 2003. Stalemate: Causes and consequences of legislative gridlock. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Brady, David, and Volden, Craig. 2006. Revolving gridlock: Politics and policy from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush. 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Carroll, Royce, Lewis, Jeff, Lo, James, McCarty, Nolan, Poole, Keith, and Rosenthal, Howard. 2010. Common Space DWNOMINATE Scores with Bootstrapped Standard Errors. (Joint House and Senate Scaling).
Carrubba, Clifford J., Yuen, Amy, and Zorn, Christopher. 2007. In defense of comparative statics: Specifying empirical tests of models of strategic interaction. Political Analysis 15(4):465.
Chiou, Fang-Yi, and Rothenberg, Lawrence S. 2003. When pivotal politics meets partisan politics. American Journal of Political Science 47(3): 503–22.
Chiou, Fang-Yi, and Rothenberg, Lawrence S. 2006. Preferences, parties, and legislative productivity. American Politics Research 34(6): 705–31.
Chiou, Fang-Yi, and Rothenberg, Lawrence S. 2009. A unified theory of U.S. lawmaking: Preferences, institutions, and party discipline. Journal of Politics 71(4): 1257–72.
Clinton, Joshua D. 2007. Lawmaking and roll calls. Journal of Politics 69(2): 457–69.
Covington, Cary R., and Bargen, Andrew A. 2004. Comparing floor-dominated and party-dominated explanations of policy change in the House of Representatives. Journal of Politics 66(4): 1069–88.
Cox, Gary W., and McCubbins, Mathew D. 2005. Setting the agenda: Responsible party government in the House of Representatives. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Krehbiel, Keith. 1998. Pivotal politics: A theory of U.S. lawmaking. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Krehbiel, Keith. 2006a. Macropolitics and micromodels: Cartels and pivots reconsidered. In The macropolitics of Congress, eds. Scott Adler, E. and Lapinski, John S., 2149. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Krehbiel, Keith. 2006b. Pivots. In The Oxford handbook of political economy, eds. Weingast, Barry R. and Wittman, A., 222240. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Krehbiel, Keith, Meirowitz, Adam, and Woon, Jonathan. 2005. Testing theories of lawmaking. In Social choice and strategic decisions, eds. Austen-Smith, David and Banks, S., 249–68. Berlin: Springer.
Lawrence, Eric D., Maltzman, Forrest, and Smith, Steven S. 2006. Who wins? Party effects in legislative voting. Legislative Studies Quarterly 31(1): 3369.
Mayhew, David R. 1991. Divided we govern: Party control, lawmaking, and investigations, 1946–1990. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Morton, Rebecca B. 1999. Methods and models: A guide to the empirical analysis of formal models in political science. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 1997. Congress: A political-economic history of roll call voting. New York: Oxford University Press.
Richman, Jesse. 2011. Parties, pivots, and policy: The status quo test. American Political Science Review 105(1): 151–65.
Signorino, Curtis S. 1999. Strategic interaction and the statistical analysis of international conflict. American Political Science Review 93(2): 279–97.
Signorino, Curtis S. 2003. Structure and uncertainty in discrete choice models. Political Analysis 11(4):316.
Stiglitz, Edward H., and Weingast, Barry R. 2010. Agenda control in Congress: Evidence from cutpoint estimates and ideal point uncertainty. Legislative Studies Quarterly 35(2): 157–85.
Witten, I. H., and Bell, T. C. 1991. The zero-frequency problem: Estimating the probabilities of novel events in adaptive text compression. IEEE Transactions on Information Theory 37(4): 10851094.
Woon, Jonathan, and Palmer Cook, Ian 2015. Replication data for: Competing gridlock models and status quo policies. Dataverse [Distributor] V1 [Version].
Recommend this journal

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

Political Analysis
  • ISSN: 1047-1987
  • EISSN: 1476-4989
  • URL: /core/journals/political-analysis
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Woon and Cook supplementary material

 PDF (215 KB)
215 KB


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