Factors of Influence on Legislative Decision Making: A Descriptive Study-Updated August 2009

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The transformation of public will into policy is characterized by many complex variables, including the factors of influence upon voting decisions. In recent years empirical research on this topic has been limited. The purpose of this descriptive study was to provide knowledge and insight about the factors of influence that shape legislative decision-making as perceived by lawmakers. Based upon a previous qualitative study, indentijying 18 key factors of influence, 105 surveys were mailed to legislators in a northwestern state, asking them to rank the relative effect each had on decision-making. Results show fiscal impact having the most influence, followed by trust and constituents. Media and legislative staff received the lowest mean.

INTRODUCTION

Pressure to produce better and more efficient schools has been felt by education policymakers across all levels. By statute, providing a system of public education rests with state legislatures, and lawmakers have become more assertive in directing policy to improve schools. McDonnell (2001) confirms the increasing role governors and legislators have taken in directing state education policy over the past several years. She asserts the role of education specialists including chief state school officers has declined. The extent of legislative involvement in education policymaking is confirmed by Fowler (2009) who writes, "State government has become increasingly important in the last 25 years and will probably continue to do so" (p. xii).

Despite the ongoing interest by state lawmakers to produce education policy, few professional educators have a clear understanding of how public will is transformed into public policy (Fowler, 2009). Moreover, why politicians make decisions on whether to vote for or against a particular bill is ambiguous. Building upon a previous qualitative study (Canfield-Davis, 1996) conducted with 25 legislators, the purpose of this descriptive study was to examine the numerical ranking of the factors of influence that shape legislative decision-making.

Using a behavioral research model (Wahlke and Eulau, 1959) Canfleld-Davis (1996) discovered 18 key factors of influence that shape legislative decision making. Fiscal impact, trust, constituents, timing of when a bill is introduced, committee chairs, legislative leadership, sources of information, sponsor, regionalism, governor, interest groups, lobbyists, sources of voting advice, re-election, state agency bureaucrats/civil servants, religion, legislative staff, and media were among the 18 key factors found. The present study provides a numerical ranking in order from high to low of these 18 factors.

PREVIOUS RESEARCH PERTAINING TO LEGISLATIVE DECISION-MAKING

Policy decisions in state legislatures may be influenced by any number of sources known to shape human behavior (Patterson, 1983). Wirt, Morey, and Brakeman (1970) identified the three variables affecting voting behavior as: (a) personal characteristics or affiliations including political party, age, gender, socioeconomic background, seniority and committee membership; (b) the home district of the legislator; and (c) the type of constituency represented in terms of urban-rural, agricultural-industrial, ethnic-religious, and affluent versus poor. Patterson identified six sources of influence including: (a) party and party leaders, (b) committees, (c) staff, (d) lobbyists, (e) the governor, and (f) a legislator's constituents.

To pinpoint the factors of influence upon legislative decision-making, researchers have observed the norms governing legislators' behavior, the roles they assume, and the goals and objectives that motivate them (Clausen, 1994). Analyzing the possible influences upon lawmakers' voting decisions is complex. Patterson (1983) noted multiple confounding influences are present in legislative decision-making. Interest groups, governors, party affiliation, and legislative committees were among some. …