Seminar Abstract

Dan Pemstein, Ph.D. (Illinois) and Assistant Professor at N. Dakota State University

"Predicting and Explaining Strategic Legislative Transparency"

Time: 12:30 pm on Nov. 14, 2012
Place: Savery 409

Abstract: An ideal democratic legislature is both decisive and accountable to voters, but these two goals are often at odds. In fact, politicians commonly have an incentive to obscure the messy details of legislative compromise from their constituents. Floor voting records provide information that citizens can use to hold their representatives accountable. Yet, most parliaments call roll only when the membership requests a recorded vote. Thus, legislators' strategic incentives can interfere with parliamentary transparency and accountability. Moreover, this strategic selection process undermines the inferences that social scientists draw from roll call vote analyses. I show how to apply techniques from statistical natural language processing to the text of legislative debates to predict recorded vote requests in the European Parliament. In turn, I use measures derived from the predictive model to explore when, and why, party leaders choose to publicize the voting record. I find that European parties request roll on especially controversial issues and use public votes to highlight disagreements within the legislature. Notably, party leaders call roll to lay blame on other parties for policies that their own rank and file oppose.