State Legislatures and Polarization

Measuring American Legislatures

America’s state legislatures are polarized–just like Congress–between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. That polarization creates gridlock, when it’s difficult to get legislation passed and policy problems addressed.

But just how polarized are they? We haven’t been able to tell in the past, because we haven’t been able to determine just how liberal or conservative state legislators are in all 50 states. One major reason why is that each state in its own way is rather unique. Massachusetts Republicans aren’t the same as Texas Republicans; the same is true for each state’s Democrats. Nor do they vote on the same things. These immutable differences mean that measuring  ideology–and levels of polarization–in state legislatures is much more difficult than that for Congress.

Nolan McCarty (Princeton University) and I wrote an academic paper in 2011 that explained our method for overcoming this problem. We have been working diligently since then to update our data…

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