Steven RogersJan 8, 2024
Accountability in State Legislatures
University of Chicago Press 2023
Political Scientist Steven Rogers’ new book focuses on the deceptively complex question of how it is that voters do or don’t/can and can’t hold their elected state representatives accountable. Rogers takes his jumping off point from the basic understanding of the relationship between the voter and their elected representatives: namely that the election process will, in some way, act as a means of making the elected official in state government accountable to the voters, who cast their ballots for or in opposition to that elected representative. State house elected officials across the United States are, indeed, closer in proximity to the people they are elected to represent and govern; and the legislation and regulations passed by state legislators generally impact us more directly and more frequently than do national-level laws, regulations, or decisions. And while there is a of literature focusing on state and local politics, the unique approach of Rogers’ research focuses specifically on the state legislatures, how the elites and voters act in elections, and if we can actually see accountability demonstrated in these interactions and connections.
Accountability in State Legislatures (U Chicago Press, 2023) is guided by the foundational question of representative democracy—and the connection between voters and their immediate representatives, as opposed to those in Washington, D.C. Rogers has compiled an extensive data set that pulls in general election results across the states, as well as primary election results. The data also includes legislative performance by elected state house representatives and integrates partisanship as well as the roll call votes by elected officials. Rogers also tries to evaluate the effectiveness of elected officials, examining how successful each individual is in getting something through the legislative process. Accountability in State Legislatures ultimately finds that accountability is more absent than it is present, given that state legislators often lack challengers in either the primary or the general elections, their seats tend to be fairly safe, and the decline in media reporting at state houses across the country has made it more difficult for voters to keep an eye on their elected representatives. Federalism has always been a complex and multi-layered form of government, and Rogers work reflects the difficulty that voters have in being able to pay close attention to the action in state houses. But this is not a story about the voters lack of engagement—though there is some of that—it is more that the modes for accountability in state legislatures or the “threats of accountability can create a false sense of security and be dangerous both to everyday life and representative government” (264).
Lilly J. Goren is a professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-host of the New Books in Political Science channel at the New Books Network. She is co-editor of The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (University Press of Kansas, 2022), as well as co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics
(University Press of Kentucky, 2012). She can be reached @gorenlj.bsky.social