Congruence, Responsiveness, and Representation in American State Legislatures

28 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2010 Last revised: 17 Oct 2014

See all articles by Boris Shor

Boris Shor

University of Houston - Department of Political Science

Date Written: August 25, 2014


Two problems hinder the ability of scholars to assess the quality of representation of state-level public opinion by elected representatives. First, the main tool measuring ideology in public opinion has historically been self-reported, but this is now well known to be severely plagued by measurement error. Second, and far more binding, we lack a common scale on which to place both constituents and representatives. While the literature has addressed a number of methods estimating a common space for politicians' ideal points across political institutions, little work exists that incorporates citizens into this space. The unified methodology in this paper solves both problems in order to assess representation of constituents by their individual state legislators, the parties in the state legislatures, and the state legislature as a whole. Bridging is accomplished using policy preference questions from a state and congressional candidate survey administered since the early 1990s. I ask those questions in my own 2008 survey of over 4,200 citizen respondents, representative at the state and national levels. Thus, citizens and state legislators can be located on the same ideological scale. I employ multilevel regression with poststratification to model state-level public ideology and obtain aggregate opinion estimates for all 50 states and 1942 upper chamber state legislative districts. State legislators and chamber and party medians are responsive to public opinion, but they are very often incongruent to it. Democrats and Republicans diverge from district and state opinion, but in an asymmetric fashion, with Republicans considerably more distant.

Keywords: ideology, ideal points, common space, state legislatures, Congress, representation, MRP, multilevel modeling, state-level opinion, survey

Suggested Citation

Shor, Boris, Congruence, Responsiveness, and Representation in American State Legislatures (August 25, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Boris Shor (Contact Author)

University of Houston - Department of Political Science ( email )

Houston, TX 77204-3011
United States

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