CUREJ - College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal

Bringing Down the House: The Causes and Effects of the Decline of Personal Relationships in the U.S. House of Representatives

Evan Philipson, University of Pennsylvania

Division: Humanities

Dept/Program: Political Science

Document Type: Undergraduate Student Research

Mentor(s): John Lapinski

Date of this Version: 08 April 2011



Over the past 35 years, personal relationships have declined among members of the United States House of Representatives. In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, polarization and partisanship have risen on Capitol Hill, only to be exacerbated by the impact of Newt Gingrich and the 1994 Republican Revolution. As a result of this increased polarization and partisanship, members of Congress are less able and less willing to forge the personal relationships that are necessary for Congress to function. These relationships make Congress more effective as an institution and result in the body passing more productive legislation. In the absence of these close social bonds, Congress is less effective and does not function the way that it ought to.

This paper identifies several factors that have led to the decline of personal relationships, beginning with a discussion of the impact of the 1994 midterm elections and the new Republican majority in the 104th Congress. Following that is an analysis of external factors (changes outside Congress), which include: members no longer moving their families to Washington, the changing nature of Congressional campaigns and fundraising, the characterization of Washington as a “dirty word,” redistricting, and media proliferation. Internal factors (changes inside Congress) are analyzed next, and they include: centralization of power in the party leadership, a shorter workweek and rules changes, House demographics, and the impact of Congressional delegation trips abroad. A final factor discussed is the role that the President of the United States has on relationships.

Interviews with nine former members of Congress and several former Congressional staffers were an integral part of the research for this paper, as were a variety of books, articles, and reports. So too was previous literature on this topic, some of which is reviewed in this paper, as well as variety of sociology books that explained the nature of relationships. A brief summary and analysis of relationship formation is included in this paper to lay the proper foundation for my argument.

In the conclusion, I offer four practical recommendations that can be implemented to reverse the decline of personal relationships in the House. They are: redistricting reform, return to a five-day workweek, campaign finance reform, and decentralization of the power of party leadership. None of these will be easy to enact or fix the problem on its own; rather, members of Congress need to recognize this as a serious policy issue and take the initiative to solve their relationship problem before they can solve the other problems that the United States currently faces. While Congress may never return to the “good old days” of weekend golf and after-work cocktails, the institution needs to take the necessary steps to make sure that it revives relationships in order pass productive legislation that benefits the American people and moves this country forward.


American Politics

Suggested Citation

Philipson, Evan, "Bringing Down the House: The Causes and Effects of the Decline of Personal Relationships in the U.S. House of Representatives" 08 April 2011. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania,

Date Posted: 13 May 2011




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