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Matthews: The folkways of the Senate

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Matthews. 1973. The folkways of the Senate. in Classics in Congressional Politics.

Using an inductive method similar to Fenno's famous "soak and poke," Matthews seeks to discover the norms that govern Senate behavior. For a more contextual discussion of this study, see notes on Weisberg et al. (1999).

The Norms in the Senate

  • Apprenticeship. Freshman Senators should be "seen, not heard."
  • Legislative work. You should be a "work horse" (work hard out of the media spotlight) more than a "show horse" (make lots of flashy speeches but don't do the nitty-gritty work of legislating).
  • Specialization. Don't be a generalist.
  • Courtesy. Disagree on issues without making it personal.
  • Reciprocity. Trade votes and exchange favors.
  • Institutional patriotism. Always speak of the Senate as the best institution in the nation.

Why Some Senators Don't Conform

  • Senators who are former governors of large states have the hardest time with apprenticeship. They want to make lots of floor speeches and be seen.
  • People with stronger political ambitions (i.e. want to run for president) conform less (in order to be seen more). (Operationalized as people who spent a smaller percentage of their pre-Senate adult years in public office, for some reason.)
  • People with more diverse constituencies (especially big-state senators) conform less, since they need to be seen doing more. If your reelection is assured, you can take time learning the norms and go with the flow. But if you have a diverse constituency and need to earn reelection, you aren't likely to be patient.
  • Ideology: Reform-minded Senators are less likely to like the rules.