The geographical foundations of state legislative conflict, 1993-2012
Myers, Adam Shalmone
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Over the past twenty years, the geographical bases of state legislative parties have shifted substantially. In statehouses across the country, legislators from densely-populated districts with large racial minority populations have become a larger presence inside Democratic caucuses while legislators from exurban and sparsely-populated districts have become a larger presence inside Republican caucuses. These changes have had important consequences for roll-call voting and policy outcomes inside legislatures, as new coalitional configurations formed by the intersection of party and geography have replaced older ones. In this dissertation, I examine the causes and consequences of these changes in a new way, one that more closely approximates a legislator's relationship to her "geographical constituency" (to use Richard Fenno's famous term). Unlike traditional studies of the social origins of legislative conflict, which have focused on how the constituency bases of legislative parties can be distinguished by reference to a small set of district-level demographic variables examined independently of each other, my approach views district demographic variables as the empirical manifestations of a wide variety of distinct, if latent, geographical contexts. My efforts to model the geographical constituency are centered upon a technique called Latent Profile Analysis (LPA), which estimates a latent categorical variable (in this case, legislative district categories indicative of distinct socioeconomic contexts) that captures covariation among a set of observed continuous variables (in this case, district-level demographic and geographical variables). The LPA analysis, which incorporates over 3,500 districts from seventeen chambers in the 1990s and 2000s, yields a nine-fold district categorization scheme that serves as the basis for subsequent inquiries of the dissertation. These inquiries examine how demographic and electoral change have interacted to influence trends in partisan representation of the district categories, how party and district category come together to explain patterns of roll-call ideology among state legislators, and how social cleavages over public policy within state electorates are translated into particular voting alignments involving the district categories. The dissertation speaks to a large literature in political science on the constituency-legislator relationship, as well to current debates about geographical sorting, legislative polarization, and the role of policy content in shaping voting coalitions.