The Incentive to Listen: Progressive Ambition, Resources, and Opinion Monitoring among State Legislators


  • This manuscript has benefited greatly from many helpful comments and suggestions from Walt Stone and the anonymous reviewers. A previous version of this paper was presented at the American Political Science Association meetings in Washington DC in August 2000.


This article argues that political ambitions combined with the resources offered by professional legislatures can enhance the prospects for representation of citizen interests because ambitious legislators have strong incentives to closely monitor constituent opinions while they wait for a strategic opportunity to run for higher office. The effect of ambition for higher office should be especially pronounced in professional legislatures that provide members with high salaries, staff, and office budgets to aid their efforts. The relationship between ambition, legislative professionalism, and behavior are tested using data drawn from a survey of upper and lower chamber members in eight state legislatures. The results show that legislators who are progressively ambitious spend more time monitoring public opinion than legislators who are non-ambitious or statically ambitious and that legislative resources augment this effect.