American Government and Politics

Maiden Speeches and Apprenticeship: Continuity and Change in U.S. Senate Norms



When asked in confidential interviews about the continuity of apprenticeship, former U.S. Senators routinely raise the maiden speech tradition. However, no published study of the “rite of passage" exists. In this paper I provide the first historical and quantitative analysis of the maiden speech tradition and the apprenticeship norm held to underlie such behavior. Using survival analysis of the timing of senators’ speeches between the 80th–117th Congresses, I first refute decades of conventional wisdom: Senators never waited nearly as long as purported. Then, I test for political dynamics that underscore adherence to the norm. Although the data corroborate Sinclair’s (1989) observation that apprenticeship died by the late 1980s, I observe a dramatic uptick in recent years— behavior which appears almost entirely attributable to Republicans under the leadership of McConnell, who has expressed reverence for the tradition, perhaps bespeaking the power of party leadership to impress normative behavior upon new senators.


Thumbnail image of Basham-APSA-MaidenSpeeches.pdf


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