Explaining Democratic Performance in the States

46 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 18 Aug 2010

See all articles by Justin Phillips

Justin Phillips

Columbia University - Department of Political Science

Jeffrey R. Lax

Columbia University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2010

Abstract

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

Phillips, Justin and Lax, Jeffrey R., Explaining Democratic Performance in the States (2010). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1450964

Justin Phillips (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Department of Political Science ( email )

7th Floor, International Affairs Bldg.
420 W. 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

Jeffrey R. Lax

Columbia University - Department of Political Science ( email )

MC3320
420 West 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

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