Follow the Leaders: Policy Presentation in the U.S. Congress

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This dissertation presents a theory of policy presentation in the U.S. Congress. I define policy presentation as the strategic development and distribution of partisan information to explain major legislative decisions by congressional leaders. Today, rank-and-file members, increasingly removed from the legislative process, rely on guidance from congressional leaders to discuss major legislative decisions with their constituents. As a result, preparing constituent communication materials has become an institutionalized responsibility for party and committee leaders, particularly for House Republicans. I also argue that policy presentation is an undocumented source of partisan polarization, as it incentivizes a partisan presentation of legislative activity—even in cases of bipartisanship and compromise. Using interviews with members of Congress and staff, computational text analysis, and social network analysis, I demonstrate how congressional leaders develop and distribute partisan messages for constituent use. I also document the conditions under which policy presentation occurs, and the members most likely to rely on party and committee leaders for assistance with constituent communication.