Joshua Tucker: The fol­lowing is a guest post from John Wilk­erson and Nick Stramp of the Uni­ver­sity of Washington’s Depart­ment of Polit­ical Sci­ence and David Smith of the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ences at North­eastern University.


On Tuesday, Feb­ruary 4, the Wash­ington Post pub­lished an article in which retiring rep­re­sen­ta­tive Robert Andrews (D-​​NJ) was asked to defend the fact that none of the bills he spon­sored over 20 years had become law. A bad mea­sure (bill suc­cess) that pre­vi­ously gar­nered little public atten­tion now seems to be trick­ling into the main­stream as con­gres­sional data becomes more easily acces­sible. The Wash­ington Post article is espe­cially note­worthy because the mes­sage for Rep. Andrews’ con­stituents is that he has failed them (when that is not nec­es­sarily the case).

Polit­ical sci­en­tists have been using the progress of bills to rate the effec­tive­ness of law­makers for more than 50 years. A half-​​century ago, bills were an acces­sible metric at a time when better indi­ca­tors were hard to come by. Times have changed though, and one of the things Scott Adler and John Wilk­erson learned in devel­oping theCon­gres­sional Bills Project was that bill suc­cess is a prob­lem­atic mea­sure of effec­tive­ness because bills are just “vehi­cles” or con­tainers for poli­cies (see chapter 4 of Con­gress and the Pol­i­tics of Problem Solving). It is one thing to study why vehi­cles progress, and quite another to study the progress of policy ideas.

Read the article at The Washington Post →