Menus Subscribe Search
illinois-capitol

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. (PHOTO: EOVART CACEIR/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

10 Fascinating Things About State Politics You Probably Didn’t Know

• May 28, 2013 • 8:00 AM

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. (PHOTO: EOVART CACEIR/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

States place industrial plants near downwind borders to pass on environmental costs, state legislatures have stopped growing to keep up with population growth, and other lessons from the 13th annual State Politics and Policy Conference.

I just came back from the 13th annual State Politics and Policy Conference, held this year in Iowa City, Iowa. I’m a big fan of this conference—it reliably features really innovative work on state politics, which unfortunately rarely gets a lot of national (or international) attention. The lessons we glean from state politics are actually incredibly valuable for people concerned with American politics. The U.S. state political systems are all largely based on the federal government, but they feature interesting variations and quirks that offer useful lessons about things like governing structures, representation, regulations, reform, and so on.

Anyway, here are a few interesting things I learned during my visit to the conference this year. I’ve linked the relevant paper or poster where available.

Counties have become more polarized, but this is a recent trend, starting only in the mid-1990s.

01. Elected judges write in more readable language than appointed judges do. However, elected judges facing a potentially difficult re-election campaign use more obfuscatory language on controversial decisions. (Michael Nelson)

02. Over the past half century, state legislatures stopped growing to keep up with population growth. This means more populous districts, and people in more populous districts tend to have a poorer view of their state government. (Dan Bowen)

03. States tend to locate highly polluting industrial plants near their downwind borders, exporting most of the environmental and health costs to neighboring states. (James Monogan, David Konisky, and Neal Woods)

04. State legislators who are ideologically extreme tend to suffer at the polls for it, even though voters have almost no idea who their state legislators are or what they stand for. Steve Rogers has some research suggesting otherwise. (Nate Birkhead)

05. Members of the California Assembly from moderate districts tend to give moderate answers on political surveys. However, they still largely vote the same as the most extreme members of their parties. (Jim Battista, Josh Dyck, and Megan Gall)

06. Counties have become more polarized, but this is a recent trend, starting only in the mid-1990s. (Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz and Corey Lang)

07. Party donors pressure unwanted candidates out of primary races, especially in open primary states. (Hans Hassell)

08. Candidates will do better in elections not only if they raise more money, but also if they have more donors from a wider geographic area. (Kristen Coopie Allen. Full disclosure: I served as an outside reader on Allen’s dissertation.)

09. The diffusion of policies from states to their neighboring states represents less than 20 percent of the state policy diffusion that occurs. (Bruce Desmarais, Jeff Harden, and Fred Boehmke)

10. The states that won the Race to the Top contest for federal educational support did so because they had broadly supported applications within their states, not because they had political ties to the Obama team. (Eric Loepp)

And those are just some of the highlights. This hardly represents every interesting paper I saw or that was presented at the conference, but hopefully it gives you a taste. You can see the program for the conference here—many of the papers are linked.

Seth Masket
Seth Masket is a political scientist at the University of Denver, specializing in political parties, state legislatures, campaigns and elections, and social networks. He is the author of No Middle Ground: How Informal Party Organizations Control Nominations and Polarize Legislatures (University of Michigan Press, 2009). Follow him on Twitter @smotus.

More From Seth Masket

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 24 • 11:00 AM

How Wildlife Declines Are Leading to Slavery and Terrorism

As wildlife numbers dwindle, wildlife crimes are rising—and that’s fueling a raft of heinous crimes committed against humans.


July 24 • 10:58 AM

How the Supremes Pick Their Cases—and Why Obamacare Is Safe for Now

The opponents of Obamacare who went one for two in circuit court rulings earlier this week are unlikely to see their cases reach the Supreme Court.



July 24 • 9:48 AM

The People Who Are Scared of Dogs

While more people fear snakes or spiders, with dogs everywhere, cynophobia makes everyday public life a constant challenge.


July 24 • 8:00 AM

Newton’s Needle: On Scientific Self-Experimentation

It is all too easy to treat science as a platform that allows the observer to hover over the messiness of life, unobserved and untouched. But by remembering the role of the body in science, perhaps we humanize it as well.


July 24 • 6:00 AM

Commercializing the Counterculture: How the Summer Music Festival Went Mainstream

With painted Volkswagen buses, talk of “free love,” and other reminders of the Woodstock era replaced by advertising and corporate sponsorships, hippie culture may be dying, but a new subculture—a sort of purgatory between hipster and hippie—is on the rise.


July 24 • 5:00 AM

In Praise of Our Short Attention Spans

Maybe there’s a good reason why it seems like there’s been a decline in our our ability to concentrate for a prolonged period of time.


July 24 • 4:00 AM

How Stereotypes Take Shape

New research from Scotland finds they’re an unfortunate product of the way we process and share information.


July 23 • 4:00 PM

Who Doesn’t Like Atheists?

The Pew Research Center asked Americans of varying religious affiliations how they felt about each other.


July 23 • 2:00 PM

We Need to Start Tracking Patient Harm and Medical Mistakes Now

Top patient-safety experts call on Congress to step in and, among other steps, give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wider responsibility for measuring medical mistakes.


July 23 • 12:19 PM

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.


July 23 • 12:00 PM

Why Do We Love the ‘Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’ Game?

It’s easy enough to turn yourself into a virtual celebrity, complete with fame and mansions—but it will likely cost you.


July 23 • 11:49 AM

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.


July 23 • 10:00 AM

Outing the Death-Drug Distributors

Calling all hackers: It’s time to go Assange on capital punishment.


July 23 • 8:00 AM

The Surprising Appeal of Products That Require Effort to Use

New research finds they enable consumers to re-establish a feeling that they’re in control of their lives.



July 23 • 6:00 AM

How the Other Half Lifts: What Your Workout Says About Your Social Class

Why can’t triathletes and weightlifters get along?


July 23 • 5:02 AM

Battle of the Public Intellectuals: Edward Glaeser vs. Richard Florida

On gentrification and housing costs.


July 23 • 4:00 AM

Our Fear of Immigrants

Why did a group of fourth graders rally in support of an undocumented classmate while the citizens of Murrieta, California, tried to stop immigrant children from entering their town?


July 22 • 4:00 PM

Can Meditation Really Slow Aging?

Is there real science in the spiritualism of meditation? Jo Marchant meets a Nobel Prize-winner who thinks so.



July 22 • 2:00 PM

The Alabama Judge Who Refuses to Let Desegregation Orders Go Ignored

A federal judge in Alabama says a local school board has failed to meet legal mandate to integrate.


July 22 • 12:00 PM

On the Destinations of Species

It’s almost always easier to cross international borders if you’re something other than human.


July 22 • 10:51 AM

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.


July 22 • 10:47 AM

Irrational Choice Theory: The LeBron James Migration From Miami to Cleveland

Return migrants to Cleveland have been coming home in large numbers for quite some time. It makes perfect sense.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

How Wildlife Declines Are Leading to Slavery and Terrorism

As wildlife numbers dwindle, wildlife crimes are rising—and that's fueling a raft of heinous crimes committed against humans.

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.

The Big One

Today, the United States produces less than two percent of the clothing purchased by Americans. In 1990, it produced nearly 50 percent. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.