Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 5 > Issue 2

Popular Control of Public Policy: A Quantitative Approach

John G. Matsusaka, Marshall School of Business, Gould School of Law, and Department of Political Science, University of Southern California, USA, matsusak@usc.edu
Suggested Citation
John G. Matsusaka (2010), "Popular Control of Public Policy: A Quantitative Approach", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 5: No. 2, pp 133-167. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00009055

Publication Date: 11 Aug 2010
© 2010 J. G. Matsusaka
Public opinion,  Representation,  Public policy


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In this article:
Measuring Congruence 
Data and Issues 
Summary of Congruence in the States 
Determinants of Congruence: Direct Democracy and Judges 
Determinants of Congruence: Election Institutions 


The quality of government is often measured by the degree of congruence between policy choices and public opinion, but there is not an accepted method for calculating congruence. This paper offers a new approach to measuring policy-opinion congruence, and uses it to study 10 high-profile issues across the 50 states. For the issues examined, states chose the policy preferred by a majority of citizens (equivalent to the median voter outcome) 59 percent of the time — only 9 percent more than would have happened with random policymaking. Majoritarian/median outcomes were 18–19 percent more likely when direct democracy was available, and 11–13 percent more likely when judges were required to stand for reelection. The likelihood of a majoritarian/median outcome was not correlated with a variety of election laws, including campaign contribution limits, public funding of campaigns, and commission-based redistricting.