“Abbie, Yay or Nay?”

By Abbie Nash


This past week in my Legislative Process class, we discussed what goes in to the decisions that members of Congress make. What influences the way certain lawmakers vote in roll call voting? Many would instantly guess that the preferences of constituents were at the top of the list of considerations of many Congressmen and women. John Kingdon, a Professor Emeritus of political science at the University of Michigan, in his book Congressmen’s Voting Decisions, found that several other factors influence the voting decisions of legislators. The stances of colleagues, the opinions of staff, and interest groups all play some role in congressional decision-making. These various influences may be more influential depending on the situation

What happens when a Congressman or woman does not have a particular preference on which way to vote on a particular issue? Who does he or she turn to for advice? Some issues are relatively low salience, meaning that it is not a high profile issue and the general public may not have a strong opinion about it. Many votes that take place in Congress every day are low salience issues, and while many legislators have a preference on which way they vote, for some votes they may ask for the opinions of those around them. I experienced this very phenomenon this past summer.

During the summer of 2016, I interned in the congressional office of a member of the House of Representatives. While most of the day, the Congressman was out of the office, attending hearings or votes, he would pop into the office a few times a day. During one of those times, I was at my desk doing some research for the legislative team when I heard the Congressman asking his staff “Grace, yay or nay? Joel, yay or nay?” His team was quick with responses and justifications for good reasons to vote either way—there was even some disagreement between some of the staff. Just as he was about to leave, he approached the intern desks and asked, “Abbie, yay or nay?”

A Congressman wanted my opinion on a roll call vote? Despite being simply an intern, he valued my opinion and specifically sought me out to ask before going to the Floor. Thankfully, I had researched what the vote was over and felt confident declaring, “I would vote yay, boss.”

“Well, Abbie, I really appreciate your opinion. And between you and me, I’m thinking I’m going to vote yay, just like you said.”

And with that, the Congressman left the office, walked down to the Floor, and voted yay on the bill. It was an exhilarating feeling, knowing Congressmen and women value the opinions of their staff. I’m sure many more considerations went into the Congressman’s decision, but his effort to seek out the advice from his staff was a clear motive for his vote. And I got to be a part of the decision-making process. Yay!

Kingdon, John W. Congressmen’s Voting Decisions. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan, 1989.  Print.