Institutional Development and Participation on House Roll-Call Votes, 1819–1921

John Baughman, Timothy P. Nokken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An emerging body of literature seeks to understand the determinants of roll-call participation in the early U.S. House of Representatives. A multitude of factors—electoral, institutional, and partisan—exerted significant influence over members’ participation decisions during the time we analyze. We analyze roll-call abstention rates from the 16th to 66th Congress (1819 to 1921) to determine whether electorally at-risk members differed in their attentiveness to their congressional responsibilities than members who faced less or no risk. By examining a century of congresses, we compare both the post-Civil War era immediately prior to adoption of the Australian ballot as well as the pre-Civil War congresses to identify those factors that affected members’ decision to participate on roll-call votes. The time series encompasses important electoral and institutional reforms, including the emergence of strong party caucuses and the enhanced agenda setting prerogatives of the majority party. Our results show that members responded to changes in the political environment, including to electoral concerns, and this effect is present prior to the Civil War. We also find that during the era of the strong Speaker, majority party members significantly increased their roll-call participation rates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)646-660
Number of pages15
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • legislative politics
  • roll-call participation
  • roll-call voting


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