Study Links Political Civility to the Productivity of State Legislatures

Bill Schreckhise and Eric Button, professors of political science at the U of A, recently published a study with three co-authors examining the link between political civility and the productivity of state legislators. Photo courtesy of the U of A.
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Bill Schreckhise and Eric Button, professors of political science at the U of A, recently published a study with three co-authors examining the link between political civility and the productivity of state legislators. Photo courtesy of the U of A.

Bill Schreckhise and Eric Button, professors of political science at the University of Arkansas, recently published a study with three co-authors showing that the extent to which state legislators behave in a civil manner among themselves is related to how effective they are at passing legislation. 

The article “Legislative Civility, Gridlock, Polarization, and Productivity” was published in the State Politics & Policy Quarterly journal, which is published by the Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association.  

Schreckhise, Button and their colleagues surveyed more than 1,200 registered lobbyists in each of the country’s 50 states, asking them questions related to how the legislators in their state generally behaved towards one another.  

Aggregating the state lobbyists' impressions by state, the researchers then determined which states had legislators who were more civil to each other, and which states’ legislatures were seen as being less civil among themselves. They then compared each legislatures' overall level of civility with how many bills were passed, how much significant legislation was enacted, and whether the state legislatures passed their important budget bills on time in recent years. 

“Although I expected a relationship between legislative civility and legislative performance, we were all surprised by the strength of the relationship between civility and performance,” said Schreckhise, who is also chair of the U of A’s Department of Political Science in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.   

“Our findings indicate that the states where legislators were the most civil towards each other passed roughly twice the number of bills that the most uncivil legislatures passed,” he continued. “This is the case even when considering a variety of things that can help or hinder a legislature's productivity, such as how much staff support the legislators receive and the length of their legislative sessions.” 

Nicholas Lovrich, one of the co-authors of the study, added, “At a time when the tenor of our political discourse is growing less civil, including that of our elected leaders, our findings show that political incivility is having a real effect on our nation's ability to govern — both in Congress and in our state capitols.”  

“Our study shows that such behavior has very real-world consequences for governance,” said Lovrich, of Washington State University’s School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs. 

About the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences: The Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences is the largest and most academically diverse unit on campus with three schools, 16 departments and 43 academic programs and research centers. The college provides the majority of the core curriculum for all University of Arkansas students.  

About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas' flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas’ economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the few U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research and Economic Development News

Contacts

Patrick Grimes, administrative assistant III
Political Science
479-575-3356, patrickg@uark.edu

Andra Liwag, senior director of communications
Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
479-575-4393, liwag@uark.edu

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