In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Partisan and Nonpartisan Theories of Organization in the US Congress

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Data
  • Reference Works
  • Models of Lawmaking

Political Science Partisan and Nonpartisan Theories of Organization in the US Congress
Chris Den Hartog
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 March 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0056


“Legislative organization” refers to the internal organization of a legislature—that is, the structures and processes of the lawmaking process, such as committees and party caucuses; the “Congressional Organization” literature centers on different aspects of the organization of the US Congress. An early generation of theories treats organization as a dependent variable to be explained, whereas subsequent theories tend to model the effects of organization on legislative outcomes (albeit, often with an eye toward testing predictions of the earlier theories). Debate came to focus largely on the question of whether parties play a significant role in legislative decision making, which has given rise to large literatures addressing both the extent and basis of parties’ influence. Other debates in the literature examine key premises from different theories (such as committee composition), as well as the evolution of legislative organization over time.


Both Davidson, et al. 2017 and Smith, et al. 2015 are Congress textbooks that serve as high-quality introductions to many aspects of Congress. Oleszek, et al. 2015 focuses more specifically on the legislative process, while Sinclair 2016 emphasizes Congress’s tendency to deviate from the regular legislative process in recent decades. Stewart 2011 takes a more technical approach, introducing readers to many of the analytical tools used in the congressional literature. Dodd and Oppenheimer 2016 present accessible overviews of different aspects of congressional literature.

  • Davidson, Roger H., Walter J. Oleszek, Frances E. Lee, and Eric Schickler. Congress and Its Members. 16th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2017.

    An excellent introductory Congress textbook, especially its treatment of the context in which congressional action occurs. Multiple editions available.

  • Dodd, Lawrence C., and Bruce I. Oppenheimer, eds. Congress Reconsidered. 11th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2016.

    Comprised of chapters by many leading scholars from the field, presenting a blend of original research and accessible overviews of current understandings of various topics. Multiple editions available.

  • Oleszek, Walter J., Mark J. Oleszek, Elizabeth Rybicki, and Bill Henniff Jr. Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process. 10th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2015.

    An authoritative introduction to the legislative process, this should be one of the first books that any undergraduate or graduate student reads before delving into the congressional organization literature. Multiple editions available.

  • Sinclair, Barbara. Unorthodox Lawmaking: New Legislative Processes in the U.S. Congress. 5th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2016.

    A definitive overview of Congress’s tendency in recent decades to deviate from the “textbook” legislative process, especially when handling major legislation. Multiple editions available.

  • Smith, Steven S., Jason M. Roberts, and Ryan J. Vander Wielen. The American Congress. 9th ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    Another excellent introductory textbook, which devotes considerable space to congressional organization and insights from the congressional organization literature. Multiple editions available.

  • Stewart, Charles III. Analyzing Congress. 2d ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011.

    A different approach that emphasizes many of the analytical tools, such as spatial modeling, that dominate the literature. An excellent starting point for understanding many of the debates and methods from studies of congressional organization.

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