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Gaining an Understanding of How Legislators Make Decisions


Legislators are constantly being asked to make decisions; decisions on how to vote, who to support, and what causes to champion. Understanding a legislator's decision-making process can make a difference as a group seeks to influence the legislator toward their argument. Learn to think like a legislator by examining the 3 H's: Head, Heart, and Health.


Elected officials generally want to make good policy. Many come to their respective legislative bodies because they want to make a difference and be part of good government. During their thought process while deciding how to vote or act, they ask themselves, "What is the smart course of action to take?" Throughout this process, unbiased, independent research is extremely valuable in guiding their decision making and in politically justifying their course of action.

Legislators consider the "Triangle Test" when deciding how to vote:

  • Do my constituents care about this issue?
  • Is this good policy for the Nation and does this make sense?
  • Is this press worthy?


Elected officials usually have a lot of passion. Legislators often believe they are doing the right thing and during difficult decisions, will use their own beliefs and value system and listen to their conscience.

  • When asking a Member to support your position, know if the issue is a hot-button issue that tugs on the strings of the heart.
  • The best appeal is an honest plea to do what is right.
  • Rely on personal stories to emphasize your point. Give the Member an example s/he can use in a speech on the Floor. Real stories from real people are effective!

Health (Political) 

Legislators wants to remain in office or at least leave on their own terms. In order to find the support to continually be re-elected, Members must be aware of not only the political climate but be aware of how certain votes will affect their ability to stay in office. Members must consider the will of their constituents, the needs of their state, and the desire of their party.

  • Keep in mind that policy decisions made under the climate of political pressure can be thorny.
  • Know the issue and how it is playing out.
  • Timing can be everything!

While there are many factors that ultimately persuade a legislator, the three H's are a solid guide to understanding a legislator's decision-making process.


Modified from the Great Start for Kids blog post on the “Three H’s” by Kenny Ames from CQ Roll Call.