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Congress: A Performance Appraisal, Andrew J. Taylor

Reviewed by Laurel Harbridge



To say that Congress is unpopular in recent years would be an understatement. The public associates Congress with scandal and partisanship, and members do little to buttress institutional approval. Andrew Taylor uses these patterns of low institutional approval as the motivation to examine whether public dissat­isfaction with Congress is justified. By providing “foundational aspirations” (p. 23) of what we ought to want from Congress, Taylor creates a number of concrete benchmarks that are then evaluated. Of the 37 benchmarks, he finds that Congress meets (or largely meets) 25 and only fails to meet 12. Thus, Congress is largely doing what it should do as a representative lawmaking institution.

Although thought‐provoking and accessible to a wide range of audiences, this book has two limitations. The first is on the “so what?” question. If the public evaluates Congress on the basis of perceptions—either ignorant of the functions that it successfully meets or ambivalent about these benchmarks—of what consequence is it that Taylor’s assessment shows optimism about con­gressional representation and legislative processes? Here, a growing body of research (for example, David Jones and Monika McDermott’s Americans, Congress, and Democratic Responsiveness:

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