To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
The scholarly exchange over approaches to measuring public preferences in the American states dates back several years. This introduction to the debate attempts to provide broad perspective on how scholars have conceptualized and measured policy mood among state mass publics in the past and the implications of those choices for theoretical and empirical questions in state politics. We frame the discussion around two questions: (1) what is the concept to be measured? and (2) how does the concept fit with the research question? We conclude with some insight on the future of the debate and its implications for state politics research.
The example of Massachusetts from Chapter 2 illustrates the most prominent critique of open meetings laws among politicians, political observers, and academics: that transparency, and thus increased public oversight, reduces legislative compromise and makes the policymaking process more gridlocked, partisan, and difficult. In Chapter 4 we put the logic of this conventional wisdom to the test. We demonstrate, with a wide range of quantitative analyses, that the effect of transparency on political compromise among legislators is virtually nonexistent. We examine rates of party loyalty, the probability of passing budgets on time, the number of bills introduced and passed, and several other measures. These analyses consistently show that policymaking and compromise are unchanged by states opening or closing their legislative meetings to the public. Importantly, we demonstrate that these null results are not the product of low statistical power. Rather, they are precisely estimated negligible effects.
Next, Chapter 7 extends our analysis of the public’s response to open deliberation within legislatures using standard survey questions from the CES. We begin by showing that citizens in states with open meetings laws are more likely to respond to a state legislative political knowledge question with a “don’t know” response. Additionally, those in open meetings states who provide a substantive response are less likely to know the correct answer compared to citizens in states with closed meetings who answer substantively. We then demonstrate that among those who identify with the party controlling the legislature, open meetings are associated with an increase in state legislative approval. Thus, this chapter (and the previous one) paint a picture of a public in transparency states that approves of its legislature, but does not actually know more about it. The key information link that represents the mechanism of our proposed theory is missing. This finding helps explain why representative behavior does not change in the wake of transparency reforms; the public does not engage with new information provided by these reforms enough to motivate adaptation by legislators.
Finally, Chapter 9 brings our findings together and assesses their collective message for understanding representation in American politics. Our analyses in and out of state legislatures suggest a cynical account of the role of transparency. Open meetings laws create a public more confident in but less knowledgeable about its legislature, while not actually changing legislators’ decisions and behavior. Transparency also does nothing to stimulate electoral competition, a key source of political accountability. In fact, open meetings create an environment in which interest groups can expand their reach and keep the status quo in place. The sum of our analyses depicts a political landscape in which legislators have no need to change their behavior in the wake of transparency laws’ passage. We draw analogies to firms that use the appearance of transparency to improve public relations while remaining mostly opaque to the public. Our evidence suggests that open meetings laws in state legislatures have similar effects, creating the perception of transparency – or the illusion of accountability – without any of the actual positive effects for democracy.
Given the contrast between political elites’ resistance to transparency and reformers’ demand for it, the results in Chapters 4 and 5 present an unusual puzzle. Both sides believe transparency should have an effect, and yet we find that it does not. We begin to address that puzzle in Chapter 6 with an assessment of citizens’ reactions to open governance. Our data sources for this analysis are the 2018 and 2020 CES, which asked survey questions of a representative sample of about 60,000 American adults in each year. We administered three experiments and two standard survey questions to subsets of 1,000 respondents each in these surveys. We find that Americans do, in fact, favor a transparent legislature to a closed one, although the actual policies the legislature implements can strengthen or weaken that preference. Additionally, this pattern is fairly widespread across the population rather than concentrated only in a specific group of citizens with certain political or demographic traits. In short, there is support for the idea that, when it is presented to them, the public responds positively to the opportunity to serve as the principal in our theoretical framework.
In principle, voting is the mechanism by which citizen preferences translate into representatives’ action. If our theoretical expectations hold anywhere, we expect that it would be in a politically consequential setting such as elections. We address this possibility in Chapter 8 by analyzing a wealth of data on candidates and voting in state legislative elections as well as interest groups’ campaign donation and lobbying activity. We find that transparency laws do not improve the electoral chances of challengers. When a state opens its meetings, the pool of candidates does not change and incumbents’ vote share is barely affected. In contrast, the picture does change significantly for interest groups. We find that, in open meetings states, these groups’ donations to incumbents increase by substantial amounts while their contributions to challengers remain basically the same. Additionally, the size of the organized interest community is notably larger when a state holds open meetings. In short, an unintended consequence of transparency is that it facilitates interest groups’ capacity to seek access through elections and lobby state governments to achieve their policy goals.
Chapter 2 animates our theoretical framework with a discussion of the history of the open meetings and freedom of information movement. Beginning with the positive view of open government, we highlight the influential role of the press in driving transparency reforms in the United States. We emphasize the prominent work of Harold Cross and the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in pushing for open meetings beginning in 1953. This new advocacy by the ASNE represented a break with longstanding policy whereby newspapers attempted to cultivate close relationships with elected officials in order to gather “off the record” commentary. The chapter then moves to the perspective of politicians, who have traditionally been reluctant to adopt transparency reforms. We summarize the history of open meetings adoptions in a few states to highlight the different transparency requirements and exemptions, concentrating on Illinois and Ohio (the first states to adopt open meetings requirements via constitution), Massachusetts (which recently sought to end its state legislature’s exemption), and Florida (one of the most recent states to adopt such a requirement).
Finding little evidence in Chapter 4 to support the arguments of opponents to open meetings laws, Chapter 5 considers the argument of proponents. Open meetings advocates, and indeed, state laws themselves imply that representation improves in the wake of the adoption of open meetings. We conduct an empirical test of the claim that open meetings are essential for the public to hold legislators to account, and thus, for representation to actually occur in the policymaking process. We assess the effects of transparency on numerous outcomes related to representation, including its impact on policy responsiveness and policy innovation. We also consider whether open legislatures are more particularistic – emphasizing the allocation of funding and resources to individual districts more than efforts to make broad statewide policy. Similar to Chapter 4, we show that open meetings consistently exert precisely estimated, but substantively small, effects on representation. Thus, despite the normative promise of transparency reforms, we come to the pessimistic conclusion that they do not achieve their primary goal.
Chapter 3 introduces our approach to measuring the transparency of deliberations in state legislatures. We discuss our coding strategies and provide descriptive information about our temporal data on the adoption of open deliberation laws and exemptions to those laws. This summary of the data provides important context, including general patterns in the timing and geography of the transparency movement and its recent decline. Importantly, the chapter includes a discussion on enforcement of these laws, demonstrating empirically that they are not written as token gestures toward accountability. They are intended to provide meaningful, powerful mechanisms to keep legislative deliberation public. Finally, we develop event history models of transparency adoption and exemption across the states to better understand the systematic factors associated with the decisions to open or close legislative meetings. These models generalize the historical patterns we uncover in Chapter 2, demonstrating in particular the pivotal role of a powerful press corps in pushing the transparency initiative forward and sustaining it over time.
In this chapter we introduce the framework of principal-agent models of representation. We develop the idea of legislators as agents of constituent principals and consider the role of private information in the ability of those principals to hold legislators accountable for their actions. We then expand this general theoretical framework to cover the role of open meetings laws themselves. We contend that transparency reveals useful substantive information about the policymaking process that constituents can use to evaluate their representatives. We discuss a theoretical tension over transparency: proponents’ views of its centrality to democratic accountability versus opponents’ claim that it inhibits legislators’ ability to work. We highlight the importance of resolving this tension for political science in general and in the specific case of American state politics. We discuss our research design strategy and methodological approach and summarize each chapter of the book.