Interest Groups & Advocacy

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 184–207 | Cite as

You catch more flies with honey: an analysis of PAC punishment and congressional vote switching

  • Joshua M. JansaEmail author
Original Article


Previous research demonstrates that interest groups punish congressional allies by withholding campaign contributions. But, past studies did not indicate whether this punishment strategy is effective at getting members of Congress to change their voting behavior. The literature on vote switching in Congress ignores how legislators may respond to pressure, in the form of punishment, from allied interest groups. We propose competing hypotheses. Punishment could cause incumbents to switch their vote, but punishment may also be seen as an unwelcome tactic and met with resistance from incumbents. We also hypothesize that rewards will lead to more vote switching. We test this theory in the context of labor PAC punishment and reward of House Democrats who voted for free trade. We find that punishment backfires by making incumbents less likely to switch their vote on trade. We also find that rewards from labor PACs make it more likely that incumbent Democrats will switch their vote, while rewards from business PACs make it much less likely. We conclude with thoughts on the importance of understanding the effect of interest group tactics on vote switching in Congress and how labor’s strategic choices may affect its influence in American politics.


Campaign contributions Political action committees Labor unions Trade policy Congressional voting 



I would like to thank Blake Whitney and James Owen for excellent research assistance, and Jacob Neiheisel, Adam Newmark, Jeff Harden, and Justin Kirkland for helpful comments. This project would not have been possible without the outstanding guidance of Michele Hoyman. Previous versions of this paper were presented at the 76th Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association in Chicago, IL and the 70th Annual Meeting of the Labor and Employment Relations Association in Baltimore, MD.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceOklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA

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