Explaining Democratic Performance in the States
46 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 18 Aug 2010
Date Written: 2010
We study how well states translate public opinion into policy and explain state variation in democratic performance. Using national surveys and advances in opinion estimation, we estimate state-level support for 39 policies across 8 issue areas, including abortion, law enforcement, health care, and education. We assess the influence of preferences, institutions, party politics, and interest groups, differentiating between responsiveness to opinion and congruence with opinion majorities. Policy is highly responsiveness to policy-specific opinion, but we uncover a large “democratic deficit”—states are only successful at matching policy to opinion majorities about half of the time. Even clear majority support is often insufficient for policy adoption. We study the causes and ideological direction of this democratic deficit, and show that the effect is state policy that is polarized relative to state electorates.
Keywords: public opinion, direct democracy, professionalization, responsiveness, institutions, policy, term limits, congruence, democratic deficit
JEL Classification: P16, H7
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation