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date: 21 June 2021

Abstract and Keywords

During the 1990s and early 2000s, as the power of party leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives reached levels not seen in a century, one of the most prominent debates among political scientist who study American politics has been whether political parties and party leaders matter for understanding what happens in Congress. Although controversy over whether the parties and party leaders are important in Congress has been settled, there remains disagreements and unanswered questions on how party leadership institutions work, and on to what degree the party leader has influence and the conditions under which it can be consequential. This article provides a critical assessment of recent scholarship on congressional party leadership. It pays particular attention to the contributions of the influential rational choice institutionalist school including alternative approaches that place less emphasis on parsimony in theoretical explanations and more on fidelity to politics and the causal processes in the political world. The article also focuses on the scholarly debate over party influence in Congress and what information can be learned from the debate that can broaden understanding of party leadership. The article ends by considering some methodological problems that arise from the study of congressional leadership and suggests areas for future research.

Keywords: party leaders, political parties, party leadership, congressional party leadership, party influence

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