The Legislative Effectiveness Project

Oct 23, 2014

The midterm elections are around the corner, and while constituents across Virginia are getting an earful about the candidates from campaign ads, two professors from the University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee have developed a systematic way to gauge just how effective each member of the House of Representatives truly is. It's called the Legislative Effectiveness Project. 

Who in Congress gets things done? It's a question every informed citizen has likely pondered – and Professor Craig Volden from UVA's Frank Batten School of Leadership and Policy says he has the answers. He and Political Science Professor Alan Wiseman from Vanderbilt have developed a method that identifies the most effective members of the House – not by how they align within their parties, but by their legislative track record:

“Our project has tracked every bill sponsored in the House of Representatives from the early 1970s to today. We use how far those bills move through the process and how important they are in order to give every member of congress a legislative effectiveness score.”

Volden says the House was a good place to start – their rules and procedures allow for more streamlined research than the Senate, making it easier to track each member’s sponsored bill through the lawmaking process.

“Then we downgrade bills that are commemorative – like naming a post office – and we upgrade bills that are really significant, like attempts to reform our immigration policies or change social security.”

An effectiveness score is born out of three levels of bill significance and 15 other indicators. One member who made the last Congress's top 5 most effective majority lawmakers list – Eric Cantor.

“And what that pointed to us, partly, is that how effective members are might not be appreciated fully by voters. We did a larger analysis and didn't find much in the way of voters knowing how effective their members were and voting based on that.”

And voters can see for themselves, just how effective their representatives have been. The comprehensive data is available online on almost all House members from 1973 to 2012.

Legislative Effectiveness Project Website