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The Ideological Mapping of American Legislatures

  • BORIS SHOR (a1) and NOLAN McCARTY (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 26 July 2011

The development and elaboration of the spatial theory of voting has contributed greatly to the study of legislative decision making and elections. Statistical models that estimate the spatial locations of individual decision-makers have made a key contribution to this success. Spatial models have been estimated for the U.S. Congress, the Supreme Court, U.S. presidents, a large number of non-U.S. legislatures, and supranational organizations. Yet one potentially fruitful laboratory for testing spatial theories, the individual U.S. states, has remained relatively unexploited, for two reasons. First, state legislative roll call data have not yet been systematically collected for all states over time. Second, because ideal point models are based on latent scales, comparisons of ideal points across states or even between chambers within a state are difficult. This article reports substantial progress on both fronts. First, we have obtained the roll call voting data for all state legislatures from the mid-1990s onward. Second, we exploit a recurring survey of state legislative candidates to allow comparisons across time, chambers, and states as well as with the U.S. Congress. The resulting mapping of America's state legislatures has great potential to address numerous questions not only about state politics and policymaking, but also about legislative politics in general.

Corresponding author
Boris Shor is Assistant Professor, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago, 111E. 60th Street, Suite 185, Chicago, IL 60637 (
Nolan McCarty is Susan Dod Brown Professor of Politics and Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, 424 Robertson Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544 (
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American Political Science Review
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