A team of five researchers from Washington State University and the University of Arkansas surveyed more than 1,200 registered lobbyists in each of the country’s 50 states, asking them questions related to how the legislators in their state generally behaved towards one another. The results show the extent to which state legislators behave in a civil manner among themselves is related to how effective they are at passing legislation.

“We were all surprised by the strength of the between civility and performance,” said Bill Schreckhise, lead author and chair of the UA Department of Political Science. “Our findings indicate that the states where legislators were the most civil towards each other passed roughly twice the number of bills that the most uncivil legislatures passed.”

Aggregating the state lobbyists’ impressions by state, the researchers then determined which states had legislators who were more civil to each other, and which states’ legislatures were seen as being less civil among themselves. They then compared each legislatures’ overall level of civility with how many bills were passed, how much significant legislation was enacted, and whether the state legislatures passed their important budget bills on time in recent years.

“At a time when the tenor of our political discourse is growing less civil, including that of our elected leaders, our findings show that political incivility is having a real effect on our nation’s ability to govern — both in Congress and in our state capitols,” added co-author Nicholas Lovrich, of Washington State University’s School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs. “Our study shows that such behavior has very real-world consequences for governance.”

The article “Legislative Civility, Gridlock, Polarization, and Productivity” was published in the State Politics & Policy Quarterly journal (Cambridge University Press) on behalf of the American Political Science Association. WSU co-authors include Benjamin Francis in the Department of Psychology.

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University of Arkansas News