Legislative Effectiveness, Progressive Ambition, and Electoral Success

Presented at the 2022 Annual Meetings of the American Political Science Association in Montreal, Canada.

In May, 2023, this paper received the State Politics and Policy Quarterly Best Paper Award from the American Political Science Association. Authors are: Danielle Thomsen, Sarah A. Treul, Craig Volden and Alan E. Wiseman. 

Are effective state lawmakers more likely than ineffective state lawmakers to be elected to Congress? We draw on a new dataset of state legislative effectiveness scores for nearly 60,000 state legislators from 1993 to 2018 to examine the relationship between lawmaker effectiveness and the decision to run for, and ultimately be elected to, the U.S. House of Representatives. We find that more- effective state lawmakers are more likely to ultimately enter Congress. This pattern is due more to the progressive ambition of candidates than to voter decisions. Specifically, more-effective lawmakers are much more likely to run for U.S. House seats than are their less-effective counterparts. However, there is essentially no relationship between a state legislator’s lawmaking effectiveness and the likelihood that she wins her primary or general House election upon deciding to run. Our findings offer important insights into how American federalism contributes to representation by effective lawmakers.

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Craig Volden