Date of Award

Summer 8-27-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Cleary, Matthew R.


Brazilian politics, Congressional Politics, Latin American politics, Legislative Effectiveness, Legislative Member Organizations, Legislative Politics

Subject Categories

International and Area Studies | Latin American Studies | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences


What explains variation in legislative effectiveness where party systems are fragmented and not policy-oriented? Why and how are some legislators in these contexts able to move their proposals through the legislative process and into law, while others fail to do so?

Recent literature on legislative effectiveness in the United States highlights several determinants behind lawmakers' ability to advance their policies through the legislative process and into law. These include legislative experience, majority party status, institutional leadership positions, social connectedness, and membership to party factions. However, little is known about what shapes the behavior of lawmakers in institutional settings outside of the United States.This dissertation seeks to fill this gap by exploring variation in legislative effectiveness in Brazil's Chamber of Deputies (2011-2018). I propose a theory of legislative effectiveness where effectiveness rests on the combination of both policy and political information. Policy information refers to information about various issues areas and their potential real-world consequences. Political information refers to information about the legislative process itself, including who can participate at what stages, their respective preferences, the institutional settings for action, and when certain actions can be executed. Lawmakers with access to both types of information are better equipped to push their agenda through the legislative process. While parties are a key institution in providing these informational resources, not all parties can fulfill this role. In these circumstances, legislative member organizations (LMOs) supplement the work of political parties by providing lawmakers with policy and political information. LMOs do so by providing a key resource that is usually found in parties: a staff corps dedicated to the provision of policy and political information. These organizations share a symbiotic relationship with political parties in which they act mostly informally to help parties fulfill their roles in formal legislative processes.

Quantitative and qualitative evidence supports this argument. Statistical analyses demonstrate that, on average, legislators associated with LMOs are more effective than their peers not associated with these organizations. More specifically, association with highly organized LMOs – the public security and agrobusiness – helps explain variation in effectiveness across individual lawmakers. Qualitative analyses show that these organizations have substantial staff resources that offer legislators with political and policy information. These analyses also support the proposition that the relationship between parties and LMOs is a symbiotic one, with LMOs acting mainly in the informal legislative process as sources of information for lawmakers.

This dissertation highlights the importance of informal institutions – in this case, legislative member organizations – for congressional politics in comparative perspective. While informal institutions can be difficult to systematically examine, inferences made from studies that disregard or ignore them will be at best biased and incomplete and at worst incorrect. This study also has implications for the literature on party systems in comparative politics. The results suggest that scholars should look beyond the electoral arena to explore why less programmatic parties produce programmatic policies. My work also makes an important empirical contribution by proposing new measures of the effectiveness of legislators in Brazil adapted from Volden and Wiseman (2014): legislative effectiveness scores (LESs) for bill sponsors and bill rapporteurs.


Open Access

Available for download on Wednesday, October 09, 2024