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Complexity, resources and text borrowing in state legislatures

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 October 2020

Eric R. Hansen*
Department of Political Science, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago60660, USA
Joshua M. Jansa
Department of Political Science, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater74078, USA
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


Do states copy or reinvent language from complex policies as they diffuse, and does this depend on legislative resources? We argue that states will more frequently reinvent more complex policies, but that states with high-resource legislatures will reinvent more than their low-resource counterparts for more complex policies. We test the theory using the bill texts from 18 policies that diffused across the 50 states from 1983 to 2014, measuring reinvention and complexity using text analysis tools. In line with expectations, we find that complex policies are reinvented more than simple policies and that high-resource legislatures reinvent bills more than low-resource legislatures on average. However, we also find that low-resource legislatures reinvent complex policies at about the same rate as high-resource legislatures. The results indicate that even legislatures with limited resources work to adapt complex policies during the diffusion process.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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