There are many videos of interesting speeches by US congressmen where they present a certain law or argue a certain viewpoint.

Are there any existing primary accounts, such as quotes from active or former politicians or former researches in political science, of these public debates changing an elected official's mind about a future vote?

  • Are those debates, or speaking opportunity? May 26, 2017 at 4:00
  • 2
    @drunk cynic they're referred to as floor debate and that is done via speech.
    – K-C
    May 26, 2017 at 12:46
  • there's a kernel of a very interesting question here; but as stated now it may not be objectively answerable.
    – user4012
    May 26, 2017 at 13:47
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    @JonathanReez - i'll give it a think but at the moment i'm not quite sure how to edit it down to objectivity.
    – user4012
    May 26, 2017 at 14:05
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    I vaguely recall an earlier question about that. Basically, parliamentary debates serve a bunch of other functions than merely convincing anyone to change their votes. In many countries (although, admittedly not the US) party discipline is so strong that that's seldom a realistic possibility.
    – Relaxed
    Jun 29, 2017 at 19:07

1 Answer 1


One book, often used in political science classes to demonstrate how the legislative process works from an up close and personal ethnographic perspective is Showdown at Gucci Gulch about the legislative process involved in a major tax reform bill. It is getting a bit dated, but its process observations are still useful for the kind of question you are asking.

In general, biographical accounts of politicians and recent history accounts of legislative actions (including decisions about going to war) are particular likely to have this kind of account, but there are few anthologies about politicians changing their minds in response to public opinion, in general. You have to look on a person by person and law by law basis for the most part. Some recommended books on the subject can be found here.

I would also note that the historical time period involved is highly relevant. There have between basically a few major historical changes in how Congress conducts its business, one in association with the Civil War and Reconstruction, another in association with the New Deal, and a third in connection with the Civil Rights era, each of which was associated with an expansion of the scope of the federal goverment and an accompanying greater professionalization and increasingly formal and bureaucratic legislative process.

Prior to the Civil War, much more of the actual legislative decision making process was made on the floor of the House and Senate respectively. Now, much of the decision making has been banished to subcommittees, committees, and backroom deal making, and the actual proceedings on the floor of the House and Senate are largely a pre-scripted Kabuki drama.

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