How much is unified control of a state government worth?

That is the subject of a new paper by Devin Caughey, Christopher Warshaw, and Yiqing Xu (pdf).  It turns out that before the 1980s it hardly mattered at all which party controlled a state government.  These days it matters much more, but how much?

Even today, for example, electing a Democratic rather than Republican governor should be expected to increase monthly welfare payments by only $1-2 per recipient, and to increase by just half a percentage point the proportion of policies on which a state has the liberal policy option. These eff ects are small relative to policy diff erences across states. They are also small relative to the partisan divergence in legislative voting records. These results thus partially assuage the normative concern that partisan polarization has led to extreme policy swings, degrading the congruence between policy outcomes and citizens’ preferences.

OK, you can all go home and relax now…and just to be clear, these estimates are adjusting for what is already the ideology of the state.

Some other things to note from this paper:

1. The effect of having a Democratic governor seems to be rising.

2. Whatever Democratic governors accomplish, they accomplish in their first two years in office.  Policy effects do not seem to cumulate over time.

3. “The estimated policy effect of a switch in unified party control is one-twentieth the size of the typical difference between states…”

The bottom line?  Worry about the culture people, not about the election.


That's right, Right and Left are basically Center. I'm not the first one to point this I?

Tyler, the third author's first name is spelled "Yiqing."

thanks, fixed...

When I started riding a road bike regularly I couldn't understand why so many people driving automobiles were so angry, mean even, running me off the road more times than I can count. I'm not referring to fat guys in pickups but old ladies in Mercedes, old men in Lincolns. I finally realized that these people aren't mean, they aren't even angry, they are stupid. They don't want to run me off the road, they are just too stupid to realize that they can slow down for a few seconds if traffic is coming the other direction so they can go around me rather than forcing me off the road. And stupid people aren't just driving cars, they are everywhere. Have people always been stupid and I didn't notice, or am I too stupid to notice there's lots of stupid people. Veteran's Day comes once a year. Stupid Day comes every day we have an election. Should veterans feel slighted?

How often do you get run off the road? If it is happening a lot, you are living on borrowed time. There is a word for this if that is the case.

If you don't know who the stupid person is, it's you.

Are you driving the wrong way?

Car drivers in the USA are not that good. Here in the Philippines they have much worse roads, but drivers are better, despite being younger and hence more impulsive. The road accident rates are about the same as in the USA.

The Philippines has a much higher rate of traffic fatalities per 100,000 cars than the US:

The number of fatalities per 100,000 people is about the same, but I would bet that's from the fact that people in the US drive much more than people in the Philippines.

I'd guess our vehicles are more safe than those driven in the Philippines. Vehicle safety is the main reason traffic fatalities have declined the last several decades.

It does seem like road etiquette does vary greatly across countries, and that probably affects accident rates. Compare Vietnam to the US or Canada, for example.

Vehicle safety, better road design and less tolerance for drunk drivers.

I'm beginning to think Lycra makes people incapable of introspection. I'll treat bikes like they belong on the road the second bikers start stop treating pedestrians like in line skaters treat parking cones. Well in fairness in line skaters hit way fewer cones.

So you'll punish a cyclist in front of you for something that you once saw other cyclists do?

Rationalization of shitty impulses is seldom so obvious.

How about pedestrians start paying some attention to the world around them instead of walking around with their noses in the I-phones? They might also consider actually checking for traffic (including bikes) before jaywalking.

Yikes hit a nerve. Let's just say I feel the exact same way about bikers. Maybe if you Lycra body suit wasn't cutting off oxygen to the brain you wouldn't dart out in front of my car at a red light.

This varies hugely by town, and probably has a tipping point. The more people who ride bikes, or know someone who does, the more courteous they are.

But also beware large Cadillac SUVs. Their drivers are either very bad, or murderous.

BTW, this is one reason I prefer mountain biking. Risk is all on the rider. You may crash and break a bone, but that is between you and the mountain.

As an aside, I hike too. While MTBers never badmouth hikers, it is common for hikers to hate on bikers.

Sad tribalism.

Yep. I've only had the road bike out a couple times in the last several years. For me, it's either mountain biking on trails or, more often, the many miles of low-traffic dirt roads through the lovely farm country here around Ann Arbor.

hikers hate on bikers + bikers hate on hikers = tribalism
MTBers never badmouth hikers + hikers hate on bikers = eff'd up bikers.

Why do dogs bark at birds? I think it is because dogs can't fly. Similarly, hikers can't fly.

Or maybe the dogs think birds look like unbelievably laughable dbags dressed like they are in the Tour de France.

One more reason, if any more were needed, to hold the concept of democracy as a joke.

Try obeying a traffic law once in a while.

People get angry with bikers because 1. they are slow and 2. they fly thru traffic lights and stop signs.

I have seen cars do those things too, I just don't make the tribal extension that they all do it

I've never seen a car moving 10mph slower than the speed limit on a busy two way street, making it difficult for me to pass, and once I do manage to find a break in the traffic to pass it, it blows through the stop sign that I'm stopped at forcing me to slow down again.

I've also never seen a car pass another car stopped at a stop sign with its turn signal on waiting for oncoming traffic, then swing around in front of the stopped car to make the turn itself, forcing the waiting car to miss their chance to turn.

It's these types of behavior, that either inconvenience other people or are downright dangerous, that annoy most people. Most drivers I know are annoyed by grannies causing backups as well, but at least grannies aren't self righteous about it.

Also the grannies aren't dressed like fuck@@@ Jeff Gordon either.

I suppose the sad thing is that the wealthiest neighborhoods I drive through are the ones where people blow all the stops.

Perhaps if I was tribal I would hate the rich

Slow is a comparative term. Cyclists (people that ride bicycles, as opposed to bikers, wanna be masculines that straddle motorcycles) think that drivers are going too fast, especially on two-lane city streets. Why should a cyclist stand and wait at a red light when there are no cars coming? Many jurisdictions don't require bicycles to stop at stop signs, for them a stop sign means "yield".

"Many jurisdictions don’t require bicycles to stop at stop signs, for them a stop sign means “yield”.

Did not know this!

Why should I stop my car when my car can hit your bike and keep on rolling. Because it's basic decency and part of the responsibilities entailed in the privilege that is access to public roads. Everyone rides bikes but then the rest of us grow and get jobs other than bike messenger/ mid-afternoon temp work.

" Everyone rides bikes but then the rest of us grow...."

Yes, grow in width across the derriere while orbiting the parking lot in an effort to find the parking spot nearest the front door of the deli.

Maybe state politics are becoming more irrelevant?

From the sound of it, they're becoming less irrelevant. But my main takeaway is that it's the bureaucracy that is the dominant force. Elected officials may create policy, but the professional bureaucrats determine how those policies are implemented and their implementations don't seem to be too dependent on the nominal policy.

That, or, there really isn't much difference between Dems and Repubs on most day to day issues. Abortion is great for getting people out to vote, but doesn't really have much to do with the vast majority of our daily lives.

I guess that's interesting to an extent but how many people vote in the hope of a policy change? How many vote out of rage, fear, loathing or to express tribalism?

"How many vote out of rage, fear, loathing or to express tribalism?". Not enough, unless you count loathing of one's countrymen, but I'm hopeful.

What do you mean by "express tribalism"? If a vote is made to ostensibly advance the interests of one's tribe (whatever that might mean in the context of contemporary US society), isn't that what the vote is meant to express? Didn't the overwhelming percentage of votes for BHO by black voters "express tribalism"? Or worse?

Perhaps the biggest effects aren't welfare payouts but regulatory and tax effects on growth, state pension liabilities and overall debt.

The problems of states like Illinois, NJ and perhaps California are created over decades rather than election cycles.

California is doing great with, from what I understand, a total tax burden in the Scandinavian range.

So we had a few years of budget impasse. Big deal, our economy still dwarfs all the little ... dwarf states who think they are doing it right.

California spins off billion dollar starups right and left, and ideologues think their state meth labs are superior.

"state meth labs" - I don't know what you personally are on, but CA has the highest poverty rate in the nation, when costs of living are taken into account. So, if you are one of the people being driven around in company's buses, bully for you. Just make sure you stay out of NAM-inhabited areas. Safety first!

A statewide adjustment? So the existence of a $500 million dollar house in Bel Air "raises cost of living on the poor?" Genius.

No, but $500k for a crap ass house on a 1/12 acre lot does.

A lot more of this than your $500 million dollar house

Housing prices vary hugely by county.

It is hard to work a low end job in a high cost county, but that is different than California just having a high cost of living overall.

Kind of funny that someone with NYC in their name doesn't understand this.

If you live in California, and you're actually spending all that much time in your house whether it's on a 1/12 acre lot or otherwise, let me give you some advice: You're doing it wrong.

"California is doing great with, from what I understand, a total tax burden in the Scandinavian range."

You're living in LaLa land.

"California Has Highest Rate Of Poverty In The Nation, According To U.S. Census Bureau
An alternative method of looking at poverty has found that California has the highest rate of impoverished people in the nation, according to figures released Wednesday by the U.S. government"

You might want to look at that beam in your own eye before casting aspersions on the mote in other's eyes.

In NYC there's no need to live in the same county (borough) where you work because unlike any city in California we have at least barely adequate public transportation.

I do think California could use less zoning restrictions, but that is a neither right nor left problem here. Solidly Republican and solidly Democratic towns both vote to keep density down. They seek to preserve the environment for current owners along similar lines.

I've been warning about the growing danger from the culture people since early 1996.

I have been warning that humans are a social species since 1995!

I think this is wishful thinking. The influence on policy is a lot more on how those welfare payments are distributed rather than the absolute amount of how much welfare payments are distributed. Conservative states may impose different limits on welfare recipients than more liberal ones would. And these states have competing priorities, so it doesn't make sense to look at the spending as an absolute number. I don't exactly know how you can adjust for something like that, as I am not a statistician, but I am not confident that numbers tell this entire story (and need to finish reading the paper when I'm not at work....)

Why isn't there endogeneity here? To the extent that the leading cultural institutions (press, universities, teachers' unions) are left-liberal, then the presence of Democrats helps to sustain the trends in cultural change. The Republicans can merely react at best or slow down the change. But those cumulative effects might be very important and each switch in local control has small changes at the margin but is potentially significant in terms of probability of reaching a threshold where the culture can more easily be flipped.

The moral isn't "don't worry about the election," it's "don't vote on the basis of party affiliation." Where I live, both parties have their fair shares of both fools and smart people. It matters which ones get in. Parties are better ignored, except that it seems to be a good idea to change parties in power every now and then, lest incompetence and corruption get entrenched.

"It matters which ones get in. "

The quality of an individual members of the state legislature matters not at all.

The party they come from is the overwhelming factor determining how they vote.

How do you know it matters which one gets in? I mean, it seems like it should matter, but then, it would seem to me like which party got control in a state should matter, too and apparently it mostly doesn't.

How does Tyler define "culture"? And how do you modify culture?


The effect of unified control or even executive control runs FAR beyond legislation. Governors appoint cabinet officials who make rules with statutory deference under administrative procedures. Talk with any business leaders and they will tell you it is not the laws that concern them as much as variation in the way they are enforced, I.e. uncertainty.

Depending upon the state, governors also appoint judges and justices who affect political outcomes for an entire generation.

Control over the bureaucracy is the most underrated and opaque power of the executive branch, and the power over the judiciary and state's attorney offices are known but underestimated.

So, has anyone measured that effect? Can we determine something about how big it is?

Start by comparing the number of rules each year to the number of new laws. Then add court judgments. Then if that's not larger than the number of new statutes each year, add in every inspection, examination, investigation, audit, etc.

In general, statutes give power to executive agencies to make and enforce rules. Agencies add specific details. When Pelosi said we had to pass ACA to know what is in it, this is what she meant. She had no idea how the executive agencies were going to implement it.

In reality, the transient executive branch is controlled by the entrenched bureaucracy, who can have a significant say in electoral outcomes just on the basis of their numbers and their propensity to show up at the polls. This is why public employee pension funds are about to become the most serious economic situation ever for states and cities.

Thats the conventional wisdom, not the reality. Despite civil service reforms, top civil servant positions are politicized.

You are certainly correct though that public sector unions call a lot of the shots. Public sector salaries and benefits are by far the largest single expenditure item and usually a majority of spending. It's a rent seeking machine.

" Despite civil service reforms, top civil servant positions are politicized."

Sure, but those positions are manned temporarily by political climbers who can only marginally change the procedures of career bureaucrats. The state attorney general slot is a coveted one because it gives the holder an opportunity to get his name in the paper and face on the television screen on a regular basis as the key figure in high profile legal cases. Ordinarily these cases were initiated before his arrival and won't be decided until after he's gone, in many cases in a campaign for governor or a US Senate seat.

Your response makes me think you do not know what a "civil servant position" is. The state attorney general is not a civil servant position because the state attorney general is elected. I think what Willitts is getting at is that top level unelected positions (what at the federal level are unofficially called "Plum Book" positions) are not subject to civil service protections & instead get politicized.

You're right. A better example would be the federal prosecutors replaced by new administrations.

Because almost every state has a balanced budget amendment fiscal constraints drive what they can actually do, when you combine that with federal mandates, it really doesn't leave a lot of flexibility either.

Of course controlling for state ideology just means that you are eliminating all variability. A Liberal state will elect left Republicans a Conservative one Right Democrats.

A pleasant fiction.

States don't have balanced budgets, and there are few fiscal constraints. Government accounting practices make Enron, WorldCom, and Arthur Anderson look angelic in comparison.

State debt obligations exceed $2 trillion. If they used a reasonable discount rate, that would probably double.

The last time people said this? year 2000. The compassionate conservative wins, and idiots vote for Nader because they thought Bush and Gore were the same. We ended up in an unnecessary war.

The system is a lesser of 2 evils approach. And it's underrated. But do care very deeply about which evil you pick.

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