Professor’s research on state legislatures wins political science book award

by Renee Peggs

Jeff Harden Thumbnail

Jeff Harden Thumbnail

Jeff Harden, an assistant professor in Notre Dame’s Department of Political Science, has won the American Political Science Association’s Virginia Gray Award for the best book on U.S. state politics or policy published in the preceding three calendar years.

In "Multidimensional Democracy: A Supply and Demand Theory of Representation in American Legislatures" (Cambridge University Press, 2016), Harden examines the relationship between what citizens want from their elected state lawmakers and what legislators adopt as their top priorities while in office.

Harden frames his book around four dimensions of representation: policy, constituent services, allocation (economic development and fundraising), and descriptive representation (categories such as gender or race). While these dimensions are each common themes in political science, Harden is among the first in this discipline to emphasize the relationship between the four elements.

“These were essentially four different facets, usually treated in isolation by political scientists,” Harden said. “For a legislator, though, these are all part of the job every day; they meld into one. It made sense to me to bring them all together for the purposes of the book.”

Harden, who joined the Notre Dame faculty in 2016, was surprised to discover that economic inequality plays a significant role in determining which of the dimensions, according to constituents, should be the focus for an elected representative.

“People who rank policy as most important tend to be economically advantaged,” Harden said. “Not to say that economically disadvantaged people are not interested in their representatives’ policy decisions, but they tend to express a preference for constituent services and bringing money to the district.”

Harden’s book suggests that legislators actually respond to these demands relative to the economic viability of their district — the wealthier a district is, the more representatives tend to focus on policy. The converse seems also to be true, with representatives in economically disadvantaged districts spending more time on services and allocation.

This dichotomy has the potential to perpetuate political inequality, he said.

“If the rich are getting the policy changes they want and the poor are getting bought off with services, that could be a contributing factor in the poor not getting their voice heard,” Harden said.

In addition to the Virginia Gray Award, Harden also won APSA’s State Politics and Policy Quarterly Award for his co-authored paper "Follow the Leader: Prominent Female Politicians and the Emergence of Women Candidates for Public Office," presented at the Midwest Political Science Association’s annual meeting in 2016.

“It’s a tremendous honor to receive any APSA award, because there are so many great political science books written every year,” Harden said. “Virginia Gray was on my dissertation committee, so that makes this award especially meaningful.”

Harden is currently at work on another book, tentatively titled "Indecision in American Legislatures," which he is co-authoring with University of Houston political scientist Justin H. Kirkland.

“We call it ‘the waffling book,’ because it addresses situations where a legislator starts off sponsoring or supporting a bill but switches sides by the time the final vote comes around,” Harden said. “We’re looking at how elected officials balance pleasing constituents and pleasing powerful party leaders.”

Originally published by Renee Peggs at al.nd.edu on August 29, 2017.