Yet One More Way in Which D.C. Is Like High School?

Happy Election Day, everyone! Please don’t read this before you vote.

And then don’t read this either. It’s a paper by Lauren Cohen and Christopher Malloy, both of Harvard Business School, and it’s called “Friends in High Places.” From the abstract:

In this paper we demonstrate that personal connections amongst politicians, and between politicians and firms, have a significant impact on the voting behavior of U.S. politicians. We exploit a unique database linking politicians to other politicians, and linking politicians to firms, and find both channels to be influential. Networks based on alumni connections between politicians, as well as common seat locations on the chamber floor, are consistent predictors of voting behavior. For the former, we estimate sharp measures that control for common characteristics of the network, as well as heterogeneous impacts of a common network characteristic across votes. For common seat locations, we identify a set of plausibly exogenously assigned seats (e.g., Freshman Senators), and find a strong impact of seat location networks on voting. Further, we show that connections between firms and politicians influence Congressional votes on bills that affect these firms. These network effects are stronger for more tightly linked networks, and at times when votes are most valuable.

An important note from the paper:

We use a variety of novel data sources to create the sample we use in this paper. First we hand-collect the complete biographical record of all Senators and Representatives from the 101st through 110th Congresses, using the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress available online. From this website, and from the individual websites of the Congressmen, we extract information on academic institutions attended, religious affiliations, birthdates, home towns, and past work experience. We use this data to create the alumni connection and other connection variables that we exploit in our analysis. We also merge this data with data on the educational backgrounds of the senior management of corporations headquartered in the home state of the Senators and Representatives in our database … for details on the construction of this firm-level biographical data.


It sounds like pretty common-sense stuff, but the investigation and quantification of the effects is fascinating!

I wonder if they could get some money out of this by creating some tools that lets political planners take these sorts of links into account when doing their work. I'm sure it's already being taken into account in a somewhat heuristic manner, but having some solid tools to estimate the likelihood of getting some Senator or Representative to change his vote sounds like it would be very valuable. It might even be able to point out some linchpin people who will be extra influential (beyond official positions) if they can be swayed to your own position.

Very cool stuff!

Ian Kemmish

This, of course, is why the best form of government is a house filled with independently wealthy disinterested people who never mix with the hoi polloi and are schooled from an early age in a sense of stewardship and duty, who are selected on the pseudo-random basis of how many foreigners their great-great-great-grandfathers killed.

But then, even the House of Lords isn't immune from populist vandals any more....


Wait, you mean politicians are human and are affected by their surroundings and exposures?

Huh, who'd 'a thunk...


This is no shock to me at all, they all pretty much treat their marriages like business mergers and political career like a fraternity.


WRT Why Vote?

It's all marginal utility, of course. We all, consciously or subconsciously, rank our needs and wants and costs of satisfying them. I don't think anyone can justify voting in terms of intrinsic or explicit value. How much is that social aspect worth to you? Enough to give up the same amount of time to earn real money, or get real pleasure? That is an individual analysis. Of course, it explains why an individual who is more loyal to concrete economic analysis than to social interaction might not vote... unless his wife tells him to.

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

If DC is a High School, is Obama 'The Fonz'?


Kemmish, that was spectacular. The best description of the HoL I've ever seen, and in a way that actually justifies it's existence and puts a positive spin on it, in light of the article.


I consider myself a marginally educated rube from the lower class living out here in what David Brooks refers to as "fly-over country," and I already knew all that.


The seat assignment is old news. Check out this article from Seth Masket, one of your recent contributors:

"Where You Sit is Where You Stand: The Impact of Seating Proximity on Legislative Cue-Taking," Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 2008, 3: 301-311.

Korea Person

wow good stuff..