Of roll call votes and bills designed to fail

My former Bruges students will recall how I always warned against the inherent bias in empirical analyses of the European Parliament’s voting behaviour. This was because most of the time the Parliament simply votes by hand, or electronically, but roll call votes are only more occasionally used (by the political groups) for three main reasons (I am quoting Corbett et al, eighth edition, p.199): ‘to put a Group’s position on an issue firmly on the record; to embarrass another Group by forcing the latter to take a publicly recorded stance on an issue; and to keep a check on their own members’ participation in a vote, and the position they take.’ In other words, roll call votes are not necessarily the most important or the most significant and, in any case, tell only part of a story that cannot be fully told (because it’s impossible to make accurate¬†empirical analyses of shows of hands). In similar vein, today I read a fascinating short article in Bloomberg Businessweek about legislative bills in Congress. In 2011, 5,929 bills were introduced, of which just 80 became law. The explanation is that ‘House members have been working on measures intended not to become law, but to score election-year points by forcing the other side to vote for or against them.’ In other words, these bills, many crafted deliberately to fail, are the equivalent in Congress to many roll call votes in the European Parliament. So now you know.

1 Comment

  1. I think of a better equivalent in the EP: parliamentary questions. They are often asked only for the sake of the “active MEP” ranking invented by some journalists and websites (like this one: http://www.mepranking.eu/). No one cares about the answer (or even the question!) …

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