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 How do Legislators Decide How to Vote?

Yea or nay?

A member of Congress decides how to vote after gathering information about the issue from a number of possible sources:

Personal staff
Committee staff
Study groups or special caucuses
Party platforms or positions
Sources back home – newspapers, other media, local party officials
Special interest groups
National media
White House and Administration officials and position papers
Constituent and public input – hearings, testimony, letters
Other members of Congress
House/Senate floor debate

After gathering information, a member of Congress decides what action (or reaction) to take. Where does he or she stand? What position will he or she take: low profile or high visibility? Leadership role? Reasoned negotiator? Party loyalist? Hardliner? How a member moves depends on who he/she is or how he/she thinks. It can depend on personal history and value systems, profession, career as an elected official, age, position in the party, family, business interest and lifestyle. Here are some questions that members of Congress might consider prior to a vote:

How will it benefit my constituents?
Will it benefit me to be associated with it?
Will there be a political or public backlash?
How controversial is it?
Which of my colleagues support it?
What is the party position?
What will it cost?
Why is it necessary?
What is wrong with the status quo?
Who will benefit by it? Whom does it favor?
Who supports it?
Who opposes it?
What is the public attitude? Is it a well respected issue with firm public support?
Is there a way to measure outcome? How will I know if the bill has a positive impact?

Members of Congress operate in a political world and need to be assured of the bill's place in the political climate. A good advocate – or lobbyist – can reassure the member about the political as well as the social and public policy benefits of the bill.​​​​



Government 101 Contents:

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