Research Interests & Current Projects

Research Interests:

  • The United States Congress
  • The Federal Bureaucracy
  • American Political Institutions
  • Legislative Studies
  • Gender Politics
  • Representation
  • Elite Behavior
  • Public Policy and Lawmaking


“Incentives, Punishments, and Oversight: How Legislators Turn Preference into Policy”

  • Committee Chair: Dr. Benjamin G. Bishin
  • Winner – Carl Albert Dissertation Award, APSA Legislative Studies Section

Abstract: This dissertation explores if, when, and how individual members of Congress work to pursue their policy goals by putting forth effort to introduce new legislation that constrains the downstream actors who are tasked with interpreting, implementing, enforcing, and following the law. Although researchers have identified a variety of policy tools that legislators may use to limit the discretion of downstream political actors throughout the policymaking process, we do not yet have a way to measure this tool usage across policy issue and time. Given the extensive role that bureaucrats and other political actors play in the policymaking process, this limits our understanding of how Congress shapes our national laws and the role it plays in our separation-of-powers system.

Using an original dataset that identifies the presence of a broad range of legislative tools in bills introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, I offer a new way to measure the tool diversity written into legislation. Applying this measure to 13,770 bills newly introduced from 2005-2012, I provide evidence that institutional factors, such as committee membership and divided government, as well as extra-institutional factors, such a gender (and the intersection of gender with partisanship) play important roles in shaping legislator bill drafting behavior. Specifically, I show that the relationship between individual legislators, their experiences, and their policy goals have important consequences for how policy is made in the United States. These findings provide a new perspective on the role that institutional context and personal experience plays on the policymaking process in Congress.


Lowande, Kenneth, Melinda Ritchie, & Erinn Lauterbach. “Descriptive Representation in Congress: Evidence from 80,000 Congressional Inquires.” Available in Early View, American Journal of Political Science. [link]

  • Winner,  Best Article Award, the American Journal of Political Science, 2019

Newman, Benjamin, Sono Shah, & Erinn Lauterbach. “Who Sees an Hourglass? Assessing Citizens’ Perceptions of Economic Inequality.  Research and Politics. [paper]

Selected Research in Progress

  • “Signals from the Hill: Policy Content Scores as a Measure of Legislative Constraint” under review
    • Abstract: Legislators employ policy tools to ensure downstream actors comply with their policy goals. While existing scholarship has identified a multitude of tools that legislators can use to constrain downstream actors when drafting legislation, we currently lack a systematic way to measure their use. Given the extensive role that these actors play in the policymaking process, this limits our understanding of how Congress shapes our laws. I develop a new method to assess and measure variation in the content of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. I use this approach to code 13,770 bills that were introduced between 2005-2012 and create bill level policy content scores. I argue that these scores can be used to shed light on important questions related to institutions, elite behavior, and lawmaking. Finally, I demonstrate the utility of these scores through an application of the measure to examine two competing hypotheses about policymaking in committees.
  • “Descriptive to Policy Representation: Lawmaking in the U.S. House of Representatives” Preparing for review.
  • “The Causes and Consequences of Lawmaking Effectiveness in Congress” with Craig Volden and Alan Wiseman. Presenting at APSA 2021
  • “Class in Session? The Effect of Legislators’ Economic Background on Policy Content in Congress” with Benjamin G. Bishin and Thomas Hayes. Presenting at APSA 2021

Other Writings

“Having the most diverse Congress ever will affect more than just legislation.” (With Kenneth Lowande & Melinda Ritchie). Monkey Cage. [link]