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No Strength in Numbers: The Failure of Big-City Bills in American State Legislatures, 1880–2000

  • GERALD GAMM (a1) and THAD KOUSSER (a2)

Do big cities exert more power than less populous ones in American state legislatures? In many political systems, greater representation leads to more policy gains, yet for most of the nation's history, urban advocates have argued that big cities face systematic discrimination in statehouses. Drawing on a new historical dataset spanning 120 years and 13 states, we find clear evidence that there is no strength in numbers for big-city delegations in state legislatures. District bills affecting large metropolises fail at much higher rates than bills affecting small cities, counties, and villages. Big cities lose so often because size leads to damaging divisions. We demonstrate that the cities with the largest delegations—which are more likely to be internally divided—are the most frustrated in the legislative process. Demographic differences also matter, with district bills for cities that have many foreign-born residents, compared with the state as a whole, failing at especially high rates.

Corresponding author
Gerald Gamm is Associate Professor of Political Science and History, University of Rochester (
Thad Kousser is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego (
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