Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 June 2017
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 policymaking power, elections do not appear to hold many legislators accountable for their lawmaking.
I thank Nolan McCarty, Larry Bartels, Josh Clinton, and Brandice Canes-Wrone for their guidance regarding this project. For helpful conversations, data assistance, and other support, I am additionally grateful to Michelle Anderson, Deborah Beim, Sarah Binder, Adam Bonica, Daniel Butler, Michael Davies, Carl Klarner, George Krause, Peter Koppstein, Boris Shor, Craig Volden, Jason Windett, the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, the National Committee for an Effective Congress, and numerous individuals from Secretaries’ of States offices or local boards of elections.