Rational Behavior or the Norm of Cooperation? Filibustering Among Retiring Senators


L. Marvin Overby is associate professor of political science, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211 (overby@missouri.edu).

Lauren C. Bell is assistant professor of political science, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, VA 23005 (lbell@rmc.edu).


This paper contributes to the growing empirical literature on filibusters by examining the factors that are associated with individual-level filibustering behavior. We focus particularly on the behavior of senators in the latter part of their careers, using impending retirement as analytical leverage to determine whether decisions to engage or not in dilatory parliamentary practices are driven more by narrowly drawn considerations of instrumental utility or by compliance with institutional norms of deference and cooperation. Using data from 1975 to 1993 and employing multivariate models that allow us to control for other relevant factors, we find only limited support for a narrowly rational model of Senate “followership.” In the course of our enquiry, we clarify the notion of legislative norms, integrate our study with recent interdisciplinary scholarship on the evolution of cooperative behavior and consider how leadership can be exercised in environments largely bereft of formal leadership resources.