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Reform and Representation: A New Method Applied to Recent Electoral Changes*

  • Thad Kousser, Justin Phillips and Boris Shor

Can electoral reforms such as an independent redistricting commission and the top-two primary create conditions that lead to better legislative representation? We explore this question by presenting a new method for measuring a key indicator of representation—the congruence between a legislator’s ideological position and the average position of her district’s voters. Our novel approach combines two methods: the joint classification of voters and political candidates on the same ideological scale, along with multilevel regression and post-stratification to estimate the position of the average voter across many districts in multiple elections. After validating our approach, we use it to study the recent impact of reforms in California, showing that they did not bring their hoped-for effects.

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Thad Kousser, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093 ( Justin Phillips, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Columbia University, 733 International Affairs Bldg, Mail Code 3320, 420 W. 118th Street, New York, NY 10027 ( Boris Shor, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Houston, The University of Houston, 3551 Cullen Boulevard Room 389, Houston, TX 77204-3011 ( This list of authors is alphabetical. Thanks to seminar participants at MIT and Stanford for helpful discussions. Thanks to Project Vote Smart for making their data available to the authors. Thanks to the Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy program where B.S. was in residence while this paper was written, and NSF Grants SES-1059716 and SES-1060092. The authors welcome comments and questions. Any errors are the authors own. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit

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Political Science Research and Methods
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