I relied on a number of qualitative methods to research leadership priority-setting under divided government. The use of qualitative data and analysis was sensible, given the small number of participants and the need to examine the topic historically. In addition, few quantitative measurements were appropriate to studying a decision process that takes place, by definition, long before roll call votes, a well-used source for numerical analysis. Rather than study agenda-setting widely, I chose to study the process more deeply by focusing on the party leaders themselves. To increase validity and reliability, I used three qualitative techniques: interviewing, historical analysis, and archival research.
Studying priority-setting can be problematic because much of the process takes place outside the public forum, without records or accounts of what took place. To be privy to these workings, a researcher must ask participants themselves what happened and why. One should be comprehensive and systematic in choosing subjects for interviewing. Interview schedules should be followed faithfully, while allowing individuals to add their own perspectives. And interviews must be sufficiently numerous so as to avoid bias and to maximize reliability.
For the research on Democratic party leaders, I chose to interview all Democratic party leaders from both houses and their senior staff members for each of the congresses under study, the 91st ( 1969-1970), the 94th ( 1975-1976), the 97th ( 1981-1982), the 100th ( 1987-1988), and the 101st ( 1989-1990). I also wanted to speak to senior staff members from committees handling three policy areas (fiscal, environmental, transportation) during these time periods. The relevant committees in the House were Energy & Commerce, Ways & Means, Interior & Insular Affairs, Public Works, and Budget. In the Senate, the committees were as follows: Interior (which became Energy and Natural Resources), Finance, Environment & Public Works, Commerce, and Budget. I gathered lists of potential interviewees from congressional staff directories.
I then researched the whereabouts of these people and contacted