Formal Approaches to the Study of Congress

Craig Volden and Alan E. Wiseman

in The Oxford Handbook of the American Congress

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199559947
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of American Politics

 Formal Approaches to the Study of Congress

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Over the past half century, one of the most important developments in the study of the American Congress has been the incorporation and expansion of rational choice approaches and formal models which have improved the understanding of legislative policymaking, of internal congressional politics, and of external interactions between Congress and its broader environment. Although formal models have been developed to analyze various topics in congressional studies, they have been used inconsistently and have had varying impacts across substantive sub-fields. While the formal approaches have the ability to probe deeply into strategic decision-making, this capacity is limited when the formal modelers do not present their findings in an accessible way to a broad audience and when formalization is incompletely exercised. This article examines five tasks to overcome the limitations of formal approaches to the study of Congress. First, it defines what constitutes a complete formal model, hence forming the framework for understanding the possible contributions of formal approaches. Second, it surveys the examples of how formal models have been used to analyze the internal politics of Congress and the external relations of Congress with other institutions. Third, it presents the developments of formal models in these two areas to determine the lessons on how techniques of formal approaches can be employed to overcome limitations and roadblocks in the scholarly studies of Congress. Fourth, it discusses how these lessons can be applied to suggest paths forward in the conscientious debates regarding parties in Congress. The article concludes with a discussion on other substantive areas ripe for scholarly exploration through formal approaches.

Keywords: American Congress; Congress; congressional studies; formal approaches; complete formal model; internal politics; external relations

Article.  13874 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; US Politics ; Political Institutions

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