Group deliberation is a defining feature of representative legislatures. However, there is little evidence that legislators actually engage in good faith deliberation or the sharing of communication that influences individual or collective choice outcomes. To what extent can deliberation influence policy positions in today’s polarized legislatures? This paper reports results from two field experiments in which state legislators randomly selected bills for supplemental, bipartisan group deliberation. Deliberation increased individual support for selected bills. Estimated effects are similar in magnitude for legislators regardless of whether they belong to the sponsor’s party. Deliberation did not appear to affect bill-level outcomes such as bargaining over bill content or the probability of bill passage, though power limitations make studying such policy-level outcomes infeasible. Qualitative data from the experiment suggest one constraint on legislators’ ability to deliberate across party lines: pressure from partisan voters.
Adam Zelizer studies legislative politics, with a focus on causal inference. His research examines how legislators make decisions – for example, how they acquire expertise from policy research and influence one another through deliberation – and the effects of individual decision-making processes on policy outcomes. One goal of this research is to figure out which legislative processes work, in the sense of leading to more informed, effective, and broadly-supported public policies, and which don’t.