Chapter Summary

States wield most of the control over elections in the United States. There are a variety of institutional and procedural mechanisms available to the states in regard to elections, and the use of such mechanisms affects political participation rates. Whereas some states allow for direct democracy, other states are more restrictive in their electoral rules. Legislative composition, gubernatorial power, and judicial composition all are affected by electoral institutions designed according to beliefs about the appropriate role of government. Ultimately, the use of electoral rules and structures shapes how states respond to their citizenry and, in turn, how citizens respond to the actions of state government.

Political participation in a state tends to reflect these mechanisms, as well as the state’s demographics and political culture. States that are moralistic tend to have more competitive political systems and higher income and education levels, and therefore they have higher participation rates than more traditionalistic states. The political culture of a state shapes political attitudes and patterns of political participation. Elections reinforce a state’s political culture, and the structure of the elections is determined by the existing dominant political culture. Thus, political culture is a significant determinant of the nature in which the public and a state’s legislature respond to policy activities.