Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Electoral Accountability for State Legislative Roll Calls and Ideological Representation


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.

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

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.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Christopher H. Achen 1978. “Measuring Representation.” American Journal of Political Science 22 (August): 475510.

John H. Aldrich , and James S. Coleman Battista . 2002. “Conditional Party Government in the States.” American Journal of Political Science 46 (January): 164–72.

Stephen Ansolabehere , and Philip Edward Jones . 2010. “Constituents’ Responses to Congressional Roll-Call Voting.” American Journal of Political Science 54 (3): 583–97.

Stephen Ansolabehere , James M. Snyder , and Charles Stewart . 2001. “Candidate Positioning in U.S. House Elections.” American Journal of Political Science 45 (January): 136–59.

Sarah F. Anzia , and Molly C. Jackman . 2013. “Legislative Organization and the Second Face of Power: Evidence from U.S. State Legislatures.” Journal of Politics 75 (01): 210–24.

Bruce Bender , and John R. Lott . 1996. “Legislator Voting and Shirking: A Critical Review of the Literature.” Public Choice 87 (1/2): 67100.

Nathaniel A. Birkhead 2015. “The Role of Ideology in State Legislative Elections.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 40 (1): 5582.

Gregory L. Bovitz , and Jamie L. Carson . 2006. “Position-Taking and Electoral Accountability in the U.S. House of Representatives.” Political Research Quarterly 59 (2): 297312.

Brandice Canes-Wrone , David W. Brady , and John F. Cogan . 2002. “Out of Step, Out of Office: Electoral Accountability and House Members’ Voting.” American Political Science Review 96 (01): 127–40.

Jamie L. Carson , Gregory Koger , Matthew J. Lebo , and Everett Young . 2010. “The Electoral Costs of Party Loyalty in Congress.” American Journal of Political Science 54 (3): 598616.

John A. Clark 1996. “Congressional Salaries and the Politics of Unpopular Votes.” American Politics Research 24 (April): 150–68.

Gary W. Cox , Thad Kousser , and Mathew D. McCubbins . 2010. “Party Power or Preferences? Quasi-Experimental Evidence from American State Legislatures.” Journal of Politics 72 (03): 799811.

Robert S. Erikson , Gerald C. Wright , and John P. McIver . 1994. Statehouse Democracy: Public Opinion and Policy in the American States. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

James Fearon . 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.

John Ferejohn . 1986. “Incumbent Performance and Electoral Control.” Public Choice 50 (1): 525.

Bernard Fraga . 2011. “Voting Costs and Voter Turnout in Competitive Elections.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 5 (July): 339–56.

Elisabeth R. Gerber 1996a. “Legislative Response to the Threat of Popular Initiatives.” American Journal of Political Science 40 (1): 99128.

Elisabeth R. Gerber 1996b. “Legislatures, Initiatives, and Representation: The Effects of State Legislative Institutions on Policy.” Political Research Quarterly 49 (June): 263–86.

Gierzynski, Anthony, and David Breaux. 1996. “Legislative Elections and the Importance of Money.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 21 (3): 337–57.

James G. Gimpel , Karen M. Kaufmann , and Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz . 2007. “Battleground States versus Blackout States: The Behavioral Implications of Modern Presidential Campaigns.” Journal of Politics 69 (3): 786–97.

Richard L. Hall , and Frank W. Wayman . 1990. “Buying Time: Moneyed Interests and the Mobilization of Bias in Congressional Committees.” The American Political Science Review 84 (September): 797820.

Robert E. Hogan 2004. “Challenger Emergence, Incumbent Success, and Electoral Accountability in State Legislative Elections.” Journal of Politics 66 (November): 1283–303.

Robert E. Hogan 2008. “Policy Responsiveness and Incumbent Reelection in State Legislatures.” American Journal of Political Science 52 (October): 858–73.

Gary C. Jacobson 1993. “Deficit-Cutting Politics and Congressional Elections.” Political Science Quarterly 108 (October): 375402.

Gary C. Jacobson 1996. “The 1994 House Elections in Perspective.” Political Science Quarterly 111 (2): 203–23.

Gary C. Jacobson 2011. “The Republican Resurgance in 2010.” Political Science Quarterly 126 (1): 2752.

John W. Kingdon 1989. Congressmen's Voting Decisions. 3rd edition. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Jeffrey W. Ladewig 2010. “Ideological Polarization and the Vanishing of Marginals: Retrospective Roll-Call Voting in the U.S. Congress.” The Journal of Politics 72 (02): 499512.

Jeffrey Lyons , William P. Jaeger , and Jennifer Wolak . 2013. “The Roots of Citizens’ Knowledge of State Politics.” State Politics & Policy Quarterly 13 (June): 183202.

John G. Matsusaka 2001. “Problems with a Methodology Used to Evaluate the Voter Initiative.” Journal of Politics 63 (4): 1250–6.

David R. Mayhew 1974b. “Congressional Elections: The Case of the Vanishing Marginals.” Polity 6 (April): 295317.

Brendan Nyhan , Eric McGhee , John Sides , Seth Masket , and Steven Greene . 2012. “One Vote Out of Step? The Effects of Salient Roll Call Votes in the 2010 Election.” American Politics Research 40 (September): 844–79.

Samuel C. Patterson , Randall B. Ripley , and Stephen V. Quinlan . 1992. “Citizens’ Orientations toward Legislatures: Congress and the State Legislature.” The Western Political Quarterly 45 (June): 315–38.

George Rabinowitz , and Stuart Elaine Macdonald . 1989. “A Directional Theory of Issue Voting.” The American Political Science Review 83 (1): 93121.

David Rhode . 1991. Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House. 1st edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Steven Rogers . 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.

George Serra , and Neil Pinney . 2004. “Casework, Issues, and Voting in State Legislative Elections.” The Journal of Legislative Studies 10 (4): 3246.

Boris Shor , and Nolan McCarty . 2011. “The Ideological Mapping of American Legislatures.” American Political Science Review 105 (03): 530–51.

James Snyder . 1996. “Constituency Preferences: California ballot Propositions, 1974–1990.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 21 (4): 463–88.

Donald R. Songer 1984. “Government Closest to the People: Constituent Knowledge in State & National Politics.” Polity 17 (December): 387–95.

Peverill Squire . 2000. “Uncontested Seats in State Legislative Elections.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 25 (February): 131–46.

Peverill Squire . 2007. “Measuring State Legislative Professionalism: The Squire Index Revisited.” State Politics & Policy Quarterly 7 (2): 211–27.

Chris Tausanovitch , and Christopher Warshaw . 2013. “Measuring Constituent Policy Preferences in Congress, State Legislatures, and Cities.” Journal of Politics 75 (02): 330–42.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary Materials

Rogers supplementary material
Online Appendix

 PDF (299 KB)
299 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 20
Total number of PDF views: 267 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 750 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 29th June 2017 - 22nd September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.