How Greater Transparency Might Have Increased Polarization in Congress

That appears to be the conclusion of this new paper by Ed Stiglitz and Aviv Caspi entitled “Observability and Reasoned Discourse: Evidence from the U.S. Senate”. Free Download

Here’s the abstract:

Many private and public institutions depend on reasoned discourse to reach decisions. Before collective action, before voting, tends to come reasoned discourse, at least in aspiration. Reformers commonly call for increases in the transparency of collective decision-making, lobbying for instance for the Supreme Court to televise proceedings. Here, we examine reasoned discourse in one important public body, the U.S. Senate, and study how increasing transparency through the introduction of C-SPAN changed legislative discourse. We find that the introduction of C-SPAN encouraged member discourse to herd with co-partisans and to anti-herd with cross-partisans; it also appears to have led to the restructuring of Senate time to facilitate performative speech. Suggesting the information problems and career incentives at play, these herding and anti-herding effects seem strongest for those closest to an election and for those with less sophisticated constituencies.

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