Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7ccbd9845f-wr4x4 Total loading time: 0.473 Render date: 2023-01-31T05:15:23.192Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Electoral Accountability for State Legislative Roll Calls and Ideological Representation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 June 2017

Saint Louis University
Steven Rogers is Assistant Professor, Saint Louis University, 125 McGannon Hall 3750 Lindell Blvd. St. Louis, MO 63108 (


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.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2017 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


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.


Achen, Christopher H. 1978. “Measuring Representation.” American Journal of Political Science 22 (August): 475510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Aldrich, John H., and Coleman Battista, James S.. 2002. “Conditional Party Government in the States.” American Journal of Political Science 46 (January): 164–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ansolabehere, Stephen, and Jones, Philip Edward. 2010. “Constituents’ Responses to Congressional Roll-Call Voting.” American Journal of Political Science 54 (3): 583–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ansolabehere, Stephen, Snyder, James M., and Stewart, Charles. 2001. “Candidate Positioning in U.S. House Elections.” American Journal of Political Science 45 (January): 136–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Anzia, Sarah F., and Jackman, Molly C.. 2013. “Legislative Organization and the Second Face of Power: Evidence from U.S. State Legislatures.” Journal of Politics 75 (01): 210–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Arnold, R. Douglas. 1992. The Logic of Congressional Action. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Arnold, R. Douglas. 2006. Congress, the Press, and Political Accountability. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Bender, Bruce, and Lott, John R.. 1996. “Legislator Voting and Shirking: A Critical Review of the Literature.” Public Choice 87 (1/2): 67100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Birkhead, Nathaniel A. 2015. “The Role of Ideology in State Legislative Elections.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 40 (1): 5582.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bovitz, Gregory L., and Carson, Jamie L.. 2006. “Position-Taking and Electoral Accountability in the U.S. House of Representatives.” Political Research Quarterly 59 (2): 297312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bowen, Daniel C., and Greene, Zachary. 2014. “Should We Measure Professionalism with an Index? A Note on Theory and Practice in State Legislative Professionalism Research.” State Politics & Policy Quarterly (July): 277–96.Google Scholar
Brady, David W., Fiorina, Morris P., and Wilkins, Arjun S.. 2011. “The 2010 Elections: Why Did Political Science Forecasts Go Awry?PS: Political Science & Politics 44 (April): 247–50.Google Scholar
Broockman, David, and Skovron, Christopher. “What Politicians Believe about their Constituents: Asymmetric Misperceptions and Prospects for Constituency Control.” Political Representation: Fifty Years After Miller & Stokes Conference, 14 Feb 2013, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. Conference Presentation.Google Scholar
Broockman, David, Carnes, Nicholas, Crowder-Meyer, Melody, and Skovron, Christopher. 2012. “The 2012 National Candidate Study.”Google Scholar
Canes-Wrone, Brandice, Brady, David W., and Cogan, John F.. 2002. “Out of Step, Out of Office: Electoral Accountability and House Members’ Voting.” American Political Science Review 96 (01): 127–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carey, John M., Niemi, Richard G., and Lynda, Powell, W.. 2000. “Incumbency and the Probability of Reelection in State Legislative Elections.” Journal of Politics 62 (3): 671700.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carson, Jamie L., Koger, Gregory, Lebo, Matthew J., and Young, Everett. 2010. “The Electoral Costs of Party Loyalty in Congress.” American Journal of Political Science 54 (3): 598616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clark, John A. 1996. “Congressional Salaries and the Politics of Unpopular Votes.” American Politics Research 24 (April): 150–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cox, Gary W., and McCubbins, Mathew D.. 1993. Legislative Leviathan: Party Government in the House. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Cox, Gary W., Kousser, Thad, and McCubbins, Mathew D.. 2010. “Party Power or Preferences? Quasi-Experimental Evidence from American State Legislatures.” Journal of Politics 72 (03): 799811.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cox, Gary W., and McCubbins, Mathew D.. 2005. Setting the Agenda: Responsible Party Government in the U.S. House of Representatives. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Delli, Carpini, Keeter, M. X., and Kennamer, J. D.. 1994. “Effects of the News Media Environment on Citizen Knowledge of State Politics and Government.” Journalism Quarterly 71 (2): 443456. Google Scholar
DiCamillo, Mark, and Field, Mervin. 2008. Technical Report 2262 Field Research Corportation.Google Scholar
Dorroh, Jennifer. 2009.“Statehouse Exodus.” American Journalism Review 1 Apr. 2009: 30-35. Print. Google Scholar
Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. 1st ed. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
Enda, Jodi, Eva Matsa, Katerina, and Boyles, Jan Lauren. 2014. Pew Research Center, July 2014, “America's Shifting Statehouse Press”. Google Scholar
Erikson, Robert S., Wright, Gerald C., and McIver, John P.. 1994. Statehouse Democracy: Public Opinion and Policy in the American States. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fearon, James. 1999. “Electoral Accountability and the Control of Politicians: Selecting Good Types versus Sanctioning Poor Performance.” In Democracy, Accountability, and Representation. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Fenno, Richard F. 1978. Home Style: House Members in their Districts. New York, NY: Little, Brown.Google Scholar
Ferejohn, John. 1986. “Incumbent Performance and Electoral Control.” Public Choice 50 (1): 525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ferejohn, John. 1998. “A Tale of Two Congresses: Social Policy in the Clinton Years.” In The Social Divide, ed. Weir, Margaret. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 4981.Google Scholar
Fraga, Bernard. 2011. “Voting Costs and Voter Turnout in Competitive Elections.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 5 (July): 339–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gerber, Elisabeth R. 1996a. “Legislative Response to the Threat of Popular Initiatives.” American Journal of Political Science 40 (1): 99128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gerber, Elisabeth R. 1996b. “Legislatures, Initiatives, and Representation: The Effects of State Legislative Institutions on Policy.” Political Research Quarterly 49 (June): 263–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gierzynski, Anthony, and David Breaux. 1996. “Legislative Elections and the Importance of Money.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 21 (3): 337–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gimpel, James G., Kaufmann, Karen M., and Pearson-Merkowitz, Shanna. 2007. “Battleground States versus Blackout States: The Behavioral Implications of Modern Presidential Campaigns.” Journal of Politics 69 (3): 786–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hall, Richard L., and Wayman, Frank W.. 1990. “Buying Time: Moneyed Interests and the Mobilization of Bias in Congressional Committees.” The American Political Science Review 84 (September): 797820.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hogan, Robert E. 2004. “Challenger Emergence, Incumbent Success, and Electoral Accountability in State Legislative Elections.” Journal of Politics 66 (November): 1283–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hogan, Robert E. 2008. “Policy Responsiveness and Incumbent Reelection in State Legislatures.” American Journal of Political Science 52 (October): 858–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Holbrook, Thomas M., and Tidmarch, Charles M.. 1991. “Sophomore Surge in State Legislative Elections, 1968–86.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 16 (1): 4963.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jacobson, Gary C. 1993. “Deficit-Cutting Politics and Congressional Elections.” Political Science Quarterly 108 (October): 375402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jacobson, Gary C. 1996. “The 1994 House Elections in Perspective.” Political Science Quarterly 111 (2): 203–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jacobson, Gary C. 2011. “The Republican Resurgance in 2010.” Political Science Quarterly 126 (1): 2752.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Justice, Glen. 2015. “States Six Times More Productive Than Congress.” CQ Roll Call: StateTrackers (January).Google Scholar
Kaplan, Martin, Goldstein, Kenneth R., and Hale, Matthew. 2003. Local TV News Coverage of the 2002 General Election. Technical report USC Annengerg School and University of Wisconsin.Google Scholar
Kingdon, John W. 1989. Congressmen's Voting Decisions. 3rd edition. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
Klarner, Carl, Berry, William D., Carsey, Thomas, Jewell, Malcolm, Niemi, Richard, Powell, Lynda, and Snyder, James. 2013. State Legislative Election Returns (1967–2010). ICPSR34297-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2013-01-11. Google Scholar
Ladewig, Jeffrey W. 2010. “Ideological Polarization and the Vanishing of Marginals: Retrospective Roll-Call Voting in the U.S. Congress.” The Journal of Politics 72 (02): 499512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Layton, Charles, and Dorroh, Jennifer. 2002. “The Sad State.” American Journalism Review (June): 18–33.Google Scholar
Lewis, Jeffery B., and Gerber, Elisabeth R.. 2004. “Beyond the Median: Voter Preferences, District Heterogeneity, and Representation.” Journal of Political Economy 112 (6): 1364–83.Google Scholar
Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1997. American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
Lipsitz, Keena. 2011. Competitive Elections and the American Voter. Reprint edition ed. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lyons, Jeffrey, Jaeger, William P., and Wolak, Jennifer. 2013. “The Roots of Citizens’ Knowledge of State Politics.” State Politics & Policy Quarterly 13 (June): 183202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Matthews, Donald R., and Stimson, James A. 1975. Yeas and Nays: Normal Decision-Making in the US. House of Representatives. New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
Matsusaka, John G. 2001. “Problems with a Methodology Used to Evaluate the Voter Initiative.” Journal of Politics 63 (4): 1250–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mayhew, David R. 1974a. Congress: the Electoral Connection. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Mayhew, David R. 1974b. “Congressional Elections: The Case of the Vanishing Marginals.” Polity 6 (April): 295317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCarty, Nolan, Keith, T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal. 2009. “Does Gerrymandering Cause Polarization?American Journal of Political Science 53 (July): 666–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nyhan, Brendan, McGhee, Eric, Sides, John, Masket, Seth, and Greene, Steven. 2012. “One Vote Out of Step? The Effects of Salient Roll Call Votes in the 2010 Election.” American Politics Research 40 (September): 844–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Patterson, Samuel C., Ripley, Randall B., and Quinlan, Stephen V.. 1992. “Citizens’ Orientations toward Legislatures: Congress and the State Legislature.” The Western Political Quarterly 45 (June): 315–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rabinowitz, George, and Macdonald, Stuart Elaine. 1989. “A Directional Theory of Issue Voting.” The American Political Science Review 83 (1): 93121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rhode, David. 1991. Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House. 1st edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rogers, Steven. 2015. “Strategic Challenger Entry in a Federal System: The Role of Economic and Political Conditions in State Legislative Competition.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 40 (November): 539–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Serra, George, and Pinney, Neil. 2004. “Casework, Issues, and Voting in State Legislative Elections.” The Journal of Legislative Studies 10 (4): 3246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shor, Boris, and McCarty, Nolan. 2011. “The Ideological Mapping of American Legislatures.” American Political Science Review 105 (03): 530–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Smith, Daniel A., and Tolbert, Caroline. 2004. Educated by Initiative the Effects of Direct Democracy on Citizens and Political Organizations in the American States. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
Snyder, James. 1996. “Constituency Preferences: California ballot Propositions, 1974–1990.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 21 (4): 463–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Songer, Donald R. 1984. “Government Closest to the People: Constituent Knowledge in State & National Politics.” Polity 17 (December): 387–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Squire, Peverill. 2000. “Uncontested Seats in State Legislative Elections.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 25 (February): 131–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Squire, Peverill. 2007. “Measuring State Legislative Professionalism: The Squire Index Revisited.” State Politics & Policy Quarterly 7 (2): 211–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tausanovitch, Chris, and Warshaw, Christopher. 2013. “Measuring Constituent Policy Preferences in Congress, State Legislatures, and Cities.” Journal of Politics 75 (02): 330–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Weberg, Brian. 2016. Size of State Legislative Staff. Technical Report, National Conference of State Legislatures.Google Scholar
Supplementary material: PDF

Rogers supplementary material

Online Appendix

Download Rogers supplementary material(PDF)
PDF 299 KB
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Electoral Accountability for State Legislative Roll Calls and Ideological Representation
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Electoral Accountability for State Legislative Roll Calls and Ideological Representation
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Electoral Accountability for State Legislative Roll Calls and Ideological Representation
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *