Friday, July 9, 2010

Nebraska: The Next Frontier

I've previously mentioned some research by Boris Shor, who managed to collect nearly-complete roll call datasets from every state legislature spanning the past two decades.  This dataset really stands to  revolutionize the study of state politics once it's released.  For a taste of what's in there, check out this working paper by Shor and Nolan McCarty (PDF).  It looks at a whole range of issues, including representation and polarization, from the vantage point of this new dataset.  It's extremely rich.

Shor and McCarty make a few interesting comments about Nebraska, which has the only nonpartisan state legislature in the country. What they find runs a bit counter to what Wright and Schaffner found a few years ago in their APSR paper (gated) comparing Nebraska to Kansas:
When we pool the state’s APRE statistic for the first dimension, we find that it is relatively low at 27%. However, four other states (Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia and Wyoming) score lower on this measure of fit. Similar results hold for a two-dimensional model.
We can also use a party-free measure of polarization – the average ideological distance between members – to compare Nebraska to other states. Just like many other states, Nebraska is polarized, and becoming increasingly more so. On average, Nebraska’s Senate is more polarized than 17 other chambers. In fact, it is actually polarizing faster than many other states. By the party-free measure, it polarized faster than 75 other chambers over 1996-2008.
How is it that a nonpartisan legislature is more polarized than 17 partisan ones?  What makes a nonpartisan legislature polarize rapidly?  These strike me as really interesting questions that party scholars should be trying to answer.  I'm on it.


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that their first statement fits very neatly with Jerry and Brian's claim that nonpartisan Nebraska government was operating like a one-party Southern government.

On the other side, Jerry and Brian were talking about specifically partisan polarization, but Boris and Nolan are using a partyless measure that also captures some of the dispersion of ideal points in NE.

Not being Boris or Nolan, I expect that they're using a partyless measure of polarization because digging up the partisan affiliations of everyone who served in the NE legislature since the mid-90s would be painful. I suppose the easiest way, for those who were still alive recently, might be to hit the voter rolls.

Anonymous said...

Digging up the partisan affiliation of members of the Unicameral wouldn't actually be that hard. The turnover wasn't especially high, until term limits got passed recently.

On that note, I suspect the term limits may have a huge influence on the partisanship of the Unicameral. The current governor is also likely partially responsible.