Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Political Science

Committee Chair

Jason MacDonald

Committee Member

Matthew Jacobsmeier

Committee Member

John Kilwein

Committee Member

Lisa Dilks


This dissertation examines the effect of political polarization on legislative productivity and policymaking in the United States Congress. As the ideological distance between Republicans and Democrats increases, both parties face pressure to obstruct the legislative process in order to defeat their opponent’s policy proposals. This leads to legislative gridlock and alters the means by which Congress can perform its legislative duties. This theory is not a new one, but this dissertation expands on existing literature in several ways. In Chapter 2 I ask: does polarization limit the types of policy that Congress is able to pass, and is Congress restricted in its ability to pass bills that benefit particularized constituencies? Using the work of Arnold (1990), I disaggregate bills promoting the interests of generalized, group, and geographic constituencies. I find that as ideological polarization increases, Congress continues to pass a steady volume of generalized laws each year, but the number of group and geographic laws have decreased in response to a polarized lawmaking environment. In Chapter 3 I shift my focus to the committee system in Congress. Existing literature shows that polarization is affecting the frequency and quality of bill passage. I ask, does polarization affect the productivity of committees as well? I argue that as party control over committees tightens, the gridlock associated with polarization will apply to the regular order of committees as well. I find evidence suggesting that the productivity of committees has decreased as Congress has become more polarized. Finally, in Chapter 4 I examine how Congress can use the appropriations process to bypass gridlock when polarization is high. I argue that appropriations bills are an attractive means through which Congress can make changes to public policy that are unrelated to the appropriations process. While changing the law in this manner is in violation of House and Senate rules, it also allows Congress to circumvent the president’s preferences during sessions in which Congress and the president belong to different parties. I create a new dataset that tallies the frequency of changes made to the United States Code that originate from yearly appropriations bills. I find that in sessions in which the government is fully divided, and polarization is high, Congress is more likely to enact substantive policy changes through the appropriations process. This project adds to growing literatures on polarization and congressional productivity, producing new knowledge about the consequences of polarization on congressional politics and lawmaking.