The Reputation Politics of the Filibuster

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Filibusters and efforts to defeat them shape the public reputation of U.S. senators and their parties. I develop a formal model to study how senators’ concerns about their own and the opposing party’s reputation influence their behavior in the Senate. In the model, a majority and opposition party bargain over policy. Each party earns a reputation with a core primary constituency which observes legislative bargaining and forms beliefs about its party’s policy priorities. Filibusters and attempts to defeat them are costly and can therefore credibly signal that a party values a particular issue. I identify conditions under which parties use these costly procedural moves to preserve or enhance their reputation when the costs of obstruction deter purely policy-motivated parties from filibustering or attempting to defeat a filibuster. Alternatively, under certain conditions parties strategically choose not to pursue policy victories that they otherwise would either to protect their own reputation with a constituency that values other issues more highly or to deny the opposing party the opportunity to signal. I examine the model’s empirical implications for the relative frequency of filibusters, cloture votes, and tabling motions and identify conditions under which the Senate is endogenously supermajoritarian.

Filibuster, obstruction, reputation, US Senate, legislative bargaining