American Politics & Public Policy Workshop: Chris Warshaw, “The Policy Effects of the Partisan Composition of State Government”

Event time: 
Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 5:00pm through 6:15pm
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The Policy Effects of the Partisan Composition of State Government

Speaker: Chris Warshaw, Assistant Professor of Political Science, MIT

Link to Advance Paper

Abstract: How does the partisan composition of state government affect policy outcomes? Research on legislative roll-call voting has concluded that partisan selection dominates convergence to the median voter. But classic studies of state politics find little cross-sectional correlation between party control and policy, suggesting that parties converge on the median voter at the state level. We investigate this question using a novel dataset of over 150 state policies between 1930 and 2012, and a dynamic latent-variable model to measure each state’s policy liberalism in each year across the entire time period. In contrast to much of the previous state politics literature, we find that the partisan affiliation of the governor has modest, but significant, effects on state policy liberalism. We find similarly modest effects of Democratic control of the state house.  Substantively, our estimates imply that the partisan composition of state government changes about one or two policies out of a hundred. These findings indicate that policy change in the states is overwhelmingly incremental, at least relative to the cross-sectional differences between states. Indirectly, they also cast doubt on fears of leapfrog representation at the national level, where legislators’ roll-call records are no more polarized than they are in the states.

Bio: Chris Warshaw is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at MIT. He completed his PhD in Political Science at Stanford University. He also received a JD from Stanford Law School and a BA from Williams College. Warshaw’s current research focuses on political representation in Congress, state legislatures, and municipal governments. He has also written on a wide range of other topics, such as survey research methodology, judicial politics, energy policy, and the institutional underpinnings of democratization. His work has appeared in the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, Political Analysis, and three books from Cambridge University Press.

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