Applying an array of quasi-experimental designs, proponents of causal inference approaches to studying American politics are setting their sights on the study of Congress. In many ways, that focus makes sense: improved research design allows us to draw stronger analytical inferences from observational data, bolstering our understanding of legislative politics. But are the pursuit and methods of causal inference equally well suited to the study of Congress and history? In this article, I consider the application of causal inference methods in historically oriented studies of Congress. Drawing from my coauthored work on the interdependence of Congress and the Federal Reserve over the Fed’s first century and earlier work on the institutional evolution of Congress, I point to the tradeoffs between knowledge and certainty that are endemic in causal inference approaches—and arguably especially so in the study of Congress and history.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Also keep in mind that before 1995, the Federal Reserve did not announce its rate decisions publicly; analysts had to back out rate changes by observing shifts in inter-bank overnight lending.
Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., & Robinson, J. A. (2001). The colonial origins of comparative development: An empirical investigation. American Economic Review, 91(5), 1369–1401.
Aldrich, J. (1993). Rational choice theory and the study of American politics. In L. C. Dodd & C. Jillson (Eds.), The dynamics of American politics. Boulder: Westview Press.
Aldrich, J. (1995). Why parties? The origins and transformation of political parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Angrist, J. D., & Pischke, J. (2015). Mastering ‘metrics: The path from cause to effect. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Archarya, A., Blackwell, M., & Sen, M. (2018). Deep roots: How slavery still shapes southern politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Bensel, R. (1984). Sectionalism and American political development, 1880–1990. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Bernanke, B. S. (2015). The Taylor rule: A benchmark for monetary policy? Ben Bernanke’s Blog, April 23. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/ben-bernanke/2015/04/28/the-taylor-rule-a-benchmark-for-monetary-policy/.
Berry, C. R., & Fowler, A. (2016). Cardinals or clerics? Congressional committees and the distribution of pork. American Journal of Political Science, 60(3), 692–708.
Binder, S. (2018). Dodging the rules in Trump’s Republican Congress. Journal of Politics, 80(4), 1454–1463.
Binder, S. A. (1997). Minority rights, majority rule: Partisanship and the procedural development of Congress. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Binder, S. A., & Smith, S. S. (1997). Politics or principle? Filibustering in the United States Senate. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Binder, S., & Spindel, M. (2017). The myth of independence: How congress governs the Federal Reserve. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Brady, D. W. (1973). Congressional voting in a partisan era: A comparison of the McKinley House to the modern House. Lawrence: Kansas State University Press.
Carpenter, D. (2001). The forging of bureaucratic autonomy: Reputations, networks, and policy innovations in executive agencies, 1862–1928. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Carpenter, D. (2010). Reputation and power: Organizational image and pharmaceutical regulation at the FDA. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Carson, J. L., Engstrom, E. J., & Roberts, J. M. (2007). Candidate quality, the personal cote, and the incumbency advantage in Congress. American Political Science Review, 101(2), 289–301.
Carson, J. L., & Roberts, J. M. (2013). Ambition, competition, and electoral reform: The politics of Congressional elections across time. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Carson, J. L., & Sievert, J. A. (2018). Electoral incentives in Congress. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Clarida, R. H., Gali, J., & Gertler, M. (1999). The science of monetary policy: A new Keynesian perspective. Journal of Economic Literature, 37(December), 1661–1707.
Clarke, A. J., Gray, T. R., & Lowande, K. (2018). Causal inference from pivotal politics theories. Journal of Politics, 80(1), 1082–1087.
Cooper, J. (1970). The origins of the standing committees and the development of the modern House. Typescript: Rice University.
Cooper, J., & Brady, D. W. (1981). Toward a diachronic analysis of Congress. American Political Science Review, 75(4), 988–1006.
Cox, G. (2000). On the effects of legislative rules. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 25, 169–192.
de la Cuesta, B., & Imai, K. (2016). Misunderstandings about the regression discontinuity design in the study of close elections. Annual Review of Political Science, 19, 375–396.
Dion, D. (1997). Turning the legislative thumbscrews: Minority rights and procedural change in legislative politics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Eichengreen, B. (2015). Hall of mirrors: The great depression, the great recession, and the uses-and misuses-of history. New York: Oxford University Press.
Epstein, L. (1986). Parties in the American mold. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Evans, C. L. (2018). The whips. Ann Abor: University of Michigan Press.
Feigenbaum, J. J., Fouirnaies, A., & Hall, A. B. (2017). The majority-party disadvantage: Revising theories of legislative organizations. Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 12(3), 269–300.
Hall, A. B., & Thompson, D. M. (2018). Who punishes extremist nominees? Candidate ideology and turning out the base in US elections. American Political Science Review, 112(3), 509–524.
Huber, J. (2013). Is theory getting lost in the ‘identification revolution’? The Monkey Cage, June 14. Retrieved from http://themonkeycage.org/2013/06/is-theory-getting-lost-in-the-identification-revolution/.
Katznelson, I. (2011). Historical approaches to the study of congress: Toward a congressional vantage on American political development. In E. Schickler & F. L. Lee (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of the American Congress. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Katznelson, I., & Lapinski, J. S. (2006). At the crossroads: Congress and American political development. Perspectives on Politics, 4(2), 243–260.
Koger, G. (2010). Filibustering: A political history of obstruction in the House and Senate. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Madonna, A. J. (2011). Winning coalition formation in the U.S. Senate; the effects of legislative decision rules and agenda change. American Journal of Political Science, 55(2), 276–288.
Mayhew, D. (1974). Congress: The electoral connection. New Haven: Yale University Press.
McCarty, N., Poole, K., & Rosenthal, H. (2013). Political bubbles: Financial crises and the failure of American democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
McConnaughy, C. M. (2013). The woman suffrage movement in America: A reassessment. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Moe, T. M. (2005). Power and political institution. Perspectives on Politics, 3(2), 215–233.
Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the twentieth century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Polsby, N. W. (1968). The institutionalization of the U.S. House of representatives. American Political Science Review, 62(1), 144–168.
Polsby, N. (2004). How Congress evolves. New York: Oxford University Press.
Reinhart, C. M., & Rogoff, K. (2009). This time is different: Eight centuries of financial folly. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Riker, W. H. (1980). Implications from the disequilibrium of majority rule for the study of institutions. American Political Science Review, 74(2), 432–446.
Schickler, E. (2001). Dosjointed pluralism: Institutional innovation and the development of the U.S. Congress. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Shepsle, K. A. (1979). Institutional arrangements and equilibrium in multidimensional voting models. American Journal of Political Science, 32, 27–59.
Shepsle, K. A. (1989). Studying institutions: Some lessons from the rational choice approach. Journal of Theoretical Politics, 1(2), 131–147.
Shepsle, K. A. (2017). Rule breaking and political imagination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Sinclair, B. (1989). The transformation of the United States Senate. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.
Skocpol, T. (1995). Protecting mothers and soldiers: The political origins of social policy in the United States. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Skowronek, S. (1982). Building a new American state: The expansion of national administrative capacities, 1877–1920. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Smith, S. S. (2014). The senate syndrome. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Taylor, J. B. (1993). Discretion versus policy rules in practice. Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, 39, 195–214.
Wawro, G., & Schickler, E. (2006). Filibuster: Obstruction and lawmaking in the U.S. Senate. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Weise, C. L. (2012). Political pressures on monetary policy during the US great inflation. American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, 4(2), 33–64.
I thank Chris Tausanovitch and participants in the USC Causal Inference and American Political Development Conference for insightful comments and Eric Lawrence and Mark Spindel for helpful conversations and collaborations along the way.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Binder, S. How we (should?) study Congress and history. Public Choice 185, 415–427 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-019-00693-5
- Federal Reserve
- Monetary politics