Policy Responsiveness and Incumbent Reelection in State Legislatures


  • Funding support was provided by the Council on Research at Louisiana State University. I wish to thank Jim Garand, Keith Hamm, and David Sobek for advice on various parts of this project. I also appreciate the comments provided by the three anonymous reviewers on earlier drafts. All errors are the sole responsibility of the author.

Robert E. Hogan is associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803 (rhogan1@lsu.edu).


Does policy responsiveness on the part of incumbent legislators affect their prospects for reelection? Recent studies of congressional campaigns demonstrate that incumbents who support policies that are more congruent with their constituents' preferences face fewer reelection obstacles. The present analysis considers this question in state legislative elections where voter knowledge of legislator activities is generally quite low. The findings demonstrate that incumbents positioned farther from the average citizen and toward their party's base are only slightly more likely to be challenged than other incumbents. However, more partisan voting incumbents do attract challengers capable of raising and spending larger amounts of money. Interestingly, incumbents positioned closer to their party's base actually receive a greater share of the vote in most contested elections. Only when challengers spend significant amounts of money do we see the positive effects of partisan voting by incumbents diminished. Overall, these findings demonstrate the mechanisms by which policy positions of incumbents in a low-information environment affect the challengers that emerge and the level of voter support received.