Frances Lee - Coalition Leadership in the Polarized Congress


 Given today’s more ideologically homogeneous parties, do coalition leaders in unified government still need to employ the complex coalition-building maneuvers that were necessary in less party-polarized congresses? Examining the two major legislative drives of the 115th Congress (2017-18)—tax reform and the repeal and replacement of Obamacare—I find that coalition leaders had to use many of the same policy and procedural techniques that were needed in the 1980s Congress. In each case, coalition leaders substantially modified their proposals to reduce the costs imposed on constituents so as to secure support from reelection-minded members. Leaders also deployed procedural tactics to make it harder for constituents and interest groups to hold lawmakers accountable for any painful policy impacts. Despite such efforts, coalition leaders nevertheless failed outright on one major agenda priority and had to significantly scale back their ambitions on the other.


Frances E. Lee is jointly appointed in the Department of Politics and the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs where she is Professor of Politics and Public Affairs.

Lee has broad interests in American politics, with a special focus on congressional politics, national policymaking, party politics, and representation. She is author of Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign (2016) and Beyond Ideology: Politics, Principles, and Partisanship in the U.S. Senate (2009). She is also coauthor of Sizing Up The Senate: The Unequal Consequences of Equal Representation (1999) and a textbook, Congress and Its Members (Sage / CQ Press). Her research has appeared in the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Perspectives on Politics, Journal of Politics, Legislative Studies Quarterly, and other outlets.

Lee is editor of the Cambridge Elements Series in American Politics and a series editor for the Chicago Studies in American Politics. She was co-editor of Legislative Studies Quarterly from 2014 to 2019. 

Lee earned her B.A. from the University of Southern Mississippi and her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.