State Legislators and Representation: A Data-Driven Learning Guide
Goal & Concept
The goal of this exercise is to examine state legislators' perceptions about their districts and the complex relationship between constituent preferences and the legislator's role as representative. Crosstabulations, bar charts, and frequencies will be used.
Similar to members of the United States Congress, a state legislator's primary responsibility is to the residents in the district he or she represents. However, representatives work within a larger decision-making body, and must think about the good of the district, the good of the state, or some combination of both when writing laws. Representatives are also subject to the influence of political parties, congressional leadership, and other legislators.
One way in which legislators may represent their districts is through sociological representation. This type of representation occurs when representatives have the same educational, ethnic, gender, racial, or religious background as their constituents. Under sociological representation, shared characteristics are assumed to make the legislator similar to, and therefore representative of, the needs of the constituency.
In agency representation, representatives may not share the same background characteristics as their constituents, but they are expected to act in the best interests of those they represent. The representative is held accountable to his/her constituents through the electoral process-legislators who do not appear to represent the best interests of their constituents may find it difficult to be re-elected.
Legislators must find a balance between constituent interest and party influences. When faced with conflicts among their constituents, legislators often side with those that align with their party. For example, if local businesses and labor unions were to be in a dispute, we might expect a Republican legislator to side with business and a Democratic legislator to side with labor, given the history of party behavior.
Examples of possible research questions about state legislators and representation:
How do legislators balance the demands of their district with the welfare of the state as a whole?
Which political party is more responsive to constituent preferences?
How do state legislators stay informed about constituent preferences?
Are state legislator perceptions about their districts accurate?
CITATION: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research. State Legislator Representation: A Data-Driven Learning Guide. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2009-04-16. Doi:10.3886/stateleg
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