What Americans Know About Statehouse Democracy ~ State Politics and Policy Quarterly (Forthcoming)
By Steven Rogers ~ Direct PDF Download
Political scientists have largely come to a consensus that “most citizens are politically uninformed” (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1997), but even with increased attention to state-level representation and electoral behavior, political scientists know surprisingly little themselves regarding what Americans know about state politics. Past studies of state political knowledge examine narrow domains of knowledge and make few comparisons between individuals’ understanding of national and state politics. To provide a more comprehensive account of Americans’ state political knowledge, I conducted a novel national survey that included over 30 political knowledge questions. In a descriptive and exploratory analysis, I show Americans demonstrated more knowledge about who their Governor is but less knowledge about who represents them in the state legislature, state government institutions, and the state economy, particularly compared to their knowledge of federal politics. The different levels of political knowledge across different domains and levels of government raise concerns for statehouse democracy and should be considered before testing theories at the state level. To guide future research and surveys, I identify political knowledge questions that discriminate well between those who know little, some, and a lot about state politics across different domains of political knowledge.
The Vanishing Incumbency Advantage in State House Elections
~ The Forum
Ninety-six percent of state legislative incumbents who appeared on the November 2022 ballot reclaimed their seats in the state legislature, the highest percentage since at least the 2010 elections. Such electoral success would suggest that these state legislators enjoyed a healthy incumbency advantage. However, prior work (e.g. Jacobson, G. C. 2015. “It’s Nothing Personal: The Decline of the Incumbency Advantage in US House Elections.” The Journal of Politics 77 (3): 861–73.) indicates that the incumbency advantage has diminished in recent elections, at least in the US House. I find similar – but smaller – declines in the magnitude of the incumbency advantage in state house elections in the last two decades. Instead of being attributable to the traditional incumbency advantage, state legislative incumbents’ success in the 2022 elections is more likely a consequence of the increasing number of partisan state house districts and the continued nationalization of state politics.
Sobering up after “Partisan Intoxication or Policy Voting?”
~ Quarterly Journal of Political Science
Abstract: “Partisan Intoxication or Policy Voting?” raises questions central to understanding the extent to which individuals vote their partisanship and brings important attention to the potential observational equivalence between partisan and policy voting. In this response, I affirm some of Fowler’s arguments but also build upon existing studies to highlight that tests of the policy voting hypothesis need to seriously consider both the direct and indirect effects of partisanship to understand the relative role of policy versus partisanship. Such consideration is particularly significant as partisanship’s indirect effects can have troubling implications for democracy. I also reexamine the southern realignment and voters’ responses to hypothetical candidate policy positions, and when accounting for elite decision-making and complex information environments, I find voters respond less to candidate ideology and policy positions than suggested by Fowler’s original analyses. Together, my findings underscore the point that “policy voting and partisan intoxication are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive explanations” of voter behavior (Fowler 2019, 5).
Coattails, Raincoats, and Congressional Election Outcomes
~ PS: Political Science and Politics
Abstract: More than 60 years ago, Angus Campbell offered an explanation for why the president’s party regularly loses congressional seats in midterm elections. He argued that peripheral voters “surge” to the polls in presidential elections and support the president’s congressional co-partisans but “decline” to turn out in the midterm. In his turnout-based explanation for midterm loss, Campbell speculated that “bad weather or an epidemic may affect the vote” but largely dismissed weather’s utility to test his theory (Campbell 1960, 399). I revisit Campbell’s speculation and employ a new identification strategy to investigate the “surge and decline” account of midterm loss. I show that as the costs of voting increase—due to above-average rainfall on Election Day—the strength of the relationship between presidential and congressional voting weakens.
Electoral Accountability for State Legislative Roll-Calls and Ideological Representation
~ American Political Science Review
Abstract: Theories of electoral accountability predict that legislators will receive fewer votes if they fail to represent their districts. To determine whether this prediction applies to state legislators, I conduct two analyses that evaluate the extent to which voters sanction legislators who cast unpopular roll-call votes or provide poor ideological representation. Neither analysis, however, produces compelling evidence that elections hold most state legislators accountable. I discover that legislators do not face meaningful electoral consequences for their ideological representation, particularly in areas where legislators receive less media attention, have larger staffs, and represent more partisan districts. In a study of individual roll-call votes across 11 states, I furthermore find a weak relationship between legislators’ roll-call positions and election outcomes with voters rewarding or punishing legislators for only 4 of 30 examined roll-calls. Thus, while state legislators wield considerable policy-making power, elections do not appear to hold many legislators accountable for their lawmaking.
National Forces in State Legislative Elections
~ Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Abstract: The race for the White House is at the topic of the ticket, but voters will also choose over 5,000 state legislators this November. While voters elect and hold the President responsible for one job and state legislators another, the outcomes of their elections are remarkably related. In analyses of elite and voter behavior in state legislative elections, I show legislators affiliated with the President’s party – especially during unpopular presidencies – are the most likely to be challenged, and compared to individual assessments of the state legislature, changes in presidential approval have at least three times the impact on voters’ decision-making in state legislative elections. Thus, while state legislatures wield considerable policy making power, legislators electoral fates appear to be largely out of their control.
Robo-Polls: Taking Cues from Traditional Sources?
~ PS: Political Science & Politics
Abstract: After the 2012 Republican New Hampshire primary, there were 159 poll results released prior to the subsequent nomination contests. More than two-thirds of these polls relied on “Interactive Voice Recognition” (IVR) software. In this research note, we evaluate the ability of polls to predict the vote-share for the Republican candidates Romney, Santorum and Gingrich. We find no difference in the average accuracy of IVR and traditional human polls, but IVR polls conducted prior to human polls do significantly worse than traditional human polls even after controlling for characteristics of the states, polls, and electoral environment. These findings provide suggestive evidence that pollsters may take cues from one another given the stakes involved. If so, reported polls should not be assumed to be independent of one another and so-called “poll-of-polls” will therefore be misleadingly precise.
A Primary Cause of Partisanship? Nomination Systems and Legislator Ideology
~ American Journal of Political Science
Abstract: Many theoretical and empirical accounts of representation argue for the polarizing influence of primary elections. Likewise, many reformers advocate opening party nominations to non-members as a way of increasing the number of moderate elected officials. However, data and measurement constraints have limited the range of empirical tests for this effect. We marry a unique new data set of state legislator ideal points to a detailed accounting of primary systems in the United States to gauge the effect of primary systems on polarization. The results suggest that the openness of a primary election has little, if any, effect on the extremity of the politicians it produces. We discuss the implications of our study for the literature on American political parties.
Strategic Challenger Entry in a Federal System
~ Legislative Studies Quarterly
Abstract: Over a third of state legislators do not face challengers when seeking reelection. Existing analyses of state legislative contestation almost exclusively focus on the stable institutional features surrounding elections and ignore conditions that change between elections. I remedy this oversight by investigating how political contexts influence challenger entry. State legislators—particularly members of the governor’s party—more often face opposition during weak state economies, but the president’s copartisans are even more likely to receive a challenger when the president is unpopular. My findings suggest that both national- and state-level political conditions have an important impact on challengers’ entry strategies.
The Responsiveness of Direct and Indirect Elections
~ Legislative Studies Quarterly
Abstract: Previous research argues the Seventeenth Amendment made Senate elections more responsive. To make this claim, existing work compares the vote-seat relationships of direct and indirect elections before and after the Seventeenth Amendment. I argue this approach is problematic because it does not account for regional variation and compares elections from different time periods using presidential instead of Senate vote. I overcome these problems by simulating indirect elections using state legislatures’ partisan compositions to evaluate the responsiveness of direct and indirect elections after the Seventeenth Amendment. With this counterfactual approach, my findings suggest direct elections are not necessary for electoral responsiveness.
Term Limits: Keeping Incumbents in Office
By Steven Rogers ~ Download
Abstract: Over twenty states enacted legislative term limits in the 1990s hoping to diminish the powers of incumbency. Term limits forced thousands of state legislators from office, but term limits’ effects on electoral completion are largely unclear. Prior research on single states provides mixed results and fails to consider how term limits affect competition within states. To provide a fuller understanding of how term limits affect state legislative competition, I investigate differences in challenger entry, challenger fundraising, and the incumbency advantage across states with and without term limits, and I uniquely assess the extent to which incumbents face weaker electoral competition as they approach their term limit. I discover that as incumbents approach their final term, they face weaker challengers and enjoy a larger incumbency advantage, suggesting potential opposition candidates strategically wait for seats opened by term limits.