PhD’s, Professionalism, and Public Office: The Effect of Education and Professional Experience on Effectiveness in the U.S.
House of Representatives
Faculty Mentor: Jay Goodliffe, Political Science
We commonly attribute advanced levels of education with increased skill and
capabilities. While the theory backing this assumption has been proven to be true in a
variety of applications, often times the trend can unintentionally be extrapolated to other
areas. As voters, we are inclined to view candidates with higher or more prestigious
education as more experienced than other candidates. I will study the effects that
professional and educational backgrounds have on legislators’ performance in office. If
the assumption holds true that those with more education are better qualified, then
these individuals should remain in office for more terms, should hold more leadership
positions, and be more effective in their elected office. Understanding the importance of
candidates’ professional and educational backgrounds on effectiveness in office can
help us better know how to elect the best individuals into office.
The main dependent variable will be a legislative effectiveness score that has been
calculated by Volden and Wiseman (The Law Makers 2015). This is a measure of
predicted effectiveness of members of the House of Representatives based on 15
indicators that show the given legislators effectiveness at moving his/her agenda into
law. Legislative Effectiveness Scores have been calculated so that the average score
for each two-year congress is set at 1. Following the generation of the LES, these
scores are then used as a dependent variable, with variables for seniority, majority
party, committee chair, and committee sub chair as independent variables to calculate
what Volden and Wiseman refer to as Benchmark Scores. What they indicate as
benchmark scores is simple the predicted legislative effectiveness score from their OLS
bit model, with the three categories of LES to predicted-LES ratios as our ordered
dependent variable. In this model I will use the following as control variables, as well as
the experience and education backgrounds independent variable: state, age, party,
majority party (y/n), gender, and congress (which congress the legislator belonged to).
In my model I followed the same approach as described above, however, I used
additional variables in my OLS regression to predict legislative effectiveness scores (or
benchmark scores). An additional change I made was to use the logged LES. I did this
due to the right skew that I found in the distribution of the data and I found logging LES
removed this skew. I also found that there were three legislators with a legislative
effectiveness score higher than 4. These legislators were: Michael Grimm in 2011 from
New York, Bobby Jindal in 2006 from Louisiana, and Rick Renzi in 2003 from Arizonai.
I choose to keep these three legislators in my model because they did not appear to
skew the data in further steps of my model.
Results and Discussion
From the resulting we can see that the alternative hypothesis that legislator
effectiveness is affected by education is not accepted. There are no indicators that the
level of education will influence the effectiveness of a legislator. There are also no
indicators that attending an Ivy League school influences the effectiveness of a
legislator. There are however so findings that were less expected. I found that Foreign
Service showed an extremely powerful effect in predicting a legislator’s effectiveness.
However, this effect proved to be negative. Meaning that if a legislator were to have
past experience with the Foreign Service, his/her predicted effectiveness category
would be lower than a similar legislator without past Foreign Service experience. The
same held true for those with Engineer and physicist professional backgrounds. Again,
showing a negative relationship between this profession and effectiveness as a
legislator. However, we will choose to ignore each of these findings due to the limited
data in these categories, only one legislator for each. The same model was generated
omitting the legislators in these two categories and the results remained consistent. We
are therefore able to conclude that only previous mayoral experience has a slight effect
on increasing the effectiveness of legislators in the United States Congress.
This points toward future research regarding the electability of candidates with
prestigious backgrounds to National offices. If voters view these candidates as being
more capable of success due to their previous experience then they are voting based
on false information. For as we can see, these legislators are not more effective in
congress than those legislators without prestigious educational and professional
i Michael Grimm in 2011 NY has a JD Degree, Governor experience, business owner, and has military
Bobby Jindal in 2006 LA has a masters degree and Governor experience.
Rick Renzi in 2003 AZ has a JD decree and Business Executive experience.