Direct Democracy and Political Equality in the American States

38 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 20 Aug 2012

Date Written: 2012


Whose opinions are reflected in the policy decisions made by state governments? A growing literature in political science documents unequal political representation at the national level, but political inequality at the state level remains under examined. This omission is unfortunate because the rich variation in political behavior, laws, institutions, and culture across the fifty states provides unique leverage for investigating what conditions lead to more or less political equality. Using public opinion measures from the National Annenberg Election Surveys and data on state policy outputs, I find that state policy is consistently more proximate to the opinions of citizens with higher incomes. Using this measure of opinion-policy proximity, I generate an index of the equality of political representation (based on citizens’ incomes) that is comparable across the states. I then evaluate the relationship between various measures of direct democracy and political equality and find evidence that states where it is easier to place a measure on the ballot for popular vote and states where the ballot initiative is more frequently used tend to weigh citizens’ opinions more equally in the policymaking process. These findings underscore the importance of laws and institutional design in promoting political equality in the United States.

Keywords: Political inequality, political representation, direct democracy, public opinion, policy

Suggested Citation

Flavin, Patrick, Direct Democracy and Political Equality in the American States (2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Patrick Flavin (Contact Author)

Baylor University ( email )

Department of Political Science
One Bear Place #97276
Waco, TX 76798
United States


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