Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


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

December 19 • 4:00 PM

How a Drug Policy Reform Organization Thinks of the Children

This valuable, newly updated resource for parents is based in the real world.


December 19 • 2:00 PM

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

It wasn’t just a toy.


December 19 • 12:00 PM

Social Scientists Can Do More to Eradicate Racial Oppression

Using our knowledge of social systems, all social scientists—black or white, race scholar or not—have an opportunity to challenge white privilege.


December 19 • 10:17 AM

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting

By not taking university press officers and research press releases seriously, scientists are often complicit in the media falsehoods they so often deride.


December 19 • 10:00 AM

Pentecostalism in West Africa: A Boon or Barrier to Disease?

How has Ghana stayed Ebola-free despite being at high risk for infection? A look at their American-style Pentecostalism, a religion that threatens to do more harm than good.


December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



December 16 • 4:00 PM

How Fear of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.


Follow us


Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

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