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Position Taking and Position Avoidance in the U.S. Senate

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Abstract

Why do some legislators take fewer positions on roll-call votes than others? Do these omissions occur by chance, or is it possible that certain legislators avoid taking positions intentionally? This study analyzes whether differential electoral considerations affect the level of position taking among legislators. In particular, it examines whether electoral considerations may actually lead some legislators to avoid taking positions on roll-call votes in an effort to conceal their issue preferences from constituents. Based on U.S. Senate data from the years 1979 to 1996, the results suggest that unwillingness to take positions on roll-call votes is not random. Instead, it is significantly related to factors such as diversity of constituents’ opinions, pursuit of higher office, electoral marginality, retirement decisions, and visibility within the institution.

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