Leaving on a Jet Plane: Polarization, Foreign Travel, and Comity in Congress


Alex Alduncin, David C W Parker, Sean M Theriault


Congress & the Presidency


No political observer, politician, or political scientist doubts that party polarization has weakened the social fabric of Congress. Measuring that effect, however, is exceedingly difficult. In this article, we operationalize the congressional social fabric by examining the foreign travel behavior of members of Congress over time. We evaluate the social disintegration in Congress by examining if and whether changes in member travel can explain why the social connectedness of members has waned. Using a unique dataset of foreign travel for House members from 1977 to 2012, we find that Republican House members, in particular, have altered their foreign travel patterns. Ideologically extreme members have always been less likely to take foreign trips, but extremely conservative Republican have become much more likely to travel only with co-partisans as polarization has increased in Congress. Ideologically moderate Republicans, while still traveling as members of bipartisan delegations, have also increased their willingness to travel only with fellow Republicans. Our results suggest that bipartisan foreign travel is a victim of the partisan war waging in Congress.



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