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The Buzz: Show Horses Get the Votes, But Work Horses Get the Money

The Buzz: Show Horses Get the Votes, But Work Horses Get the Money

July/August 2023

By Alan Crawford
Impact Editor

There are show horses and work horses in Congress, and guess what? Voters prefer the show horses.

In fact, the showier they are, the more the voters like them. A National Academy of Sciences study of hearings from the 107th to 112th Congresses bears this out. The members who engage in grandstanding — lecturing witnesses, often on controversial political subjects totally irrelevant to the matter at hand — are rewarded on Election Day. These rewards, moreover, can be quantified. For example, one former member whose identity is irrelevant (Mike Pence) did roughly 12% more grandstanding in his second term than in his first and got 3% more votes when he came up for reelection.

What showboating does not help with, however, is PAC contributions. The study shows that PACs tend to give money to members who use congressional hearings to elicit policy-relevant information from witnesses. Voters respond to members’ volatile utterances but remain “relatively ignorant about their legislative achievements,” while interest groups “barely react to members’ political statements; instead, they attend to members’ legislative activities and assess those when making their donation decisions.”

It might be helpful to know if this was still the case after Jan. 6 when PACs began to pay closer attention to whether members voted to certify the results of the presidential election. Maybe from here on, PACs will be examining candidates’ political posturing more carefully, balancing it against their policy positions and legislative activities. We’ll be watching. In the meantime, here’s a juicy tidbit from the study’s findings: Members who speak with witnesses from interest groups in respectful tones, taking the opportunity to elicit information rather than simply bloviating, “are likely to be offered jobs at lobbying firms once they leave Congress.”

Alan Crawford
Editor, Impact Newsletter
804.212.9574 | [email protected]

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