The Relationship Between an Incumbent Governor's Popularity and State Legislative Election Outcomes: A Contemporary Assessment of the Coattails Phenomenon

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

The thesis explores the relationship between an incumbent governor's popularity and state legislative election outcomes in the contemporary era. The study employs data collected from 49 states over a 16-year period (1988 - 2003). Existing archival election and economic data were compiled, compared and analyzed using regression analysis to provide additional insights into the state legislative elections literature. The paper offers a better understanding of the relative effects that certain variables may have on state legislative election outcomes.

The study provides evidence that voters are apt to "split their ticket" between state and national elections: that state elections are not mirrors of national elections. This could be a consequence of the trend towards devolution and state government's increasing jurisdiction over a broadening array of public policy. The findings suggest that the coattails of presidential and senatorial candidates are not extending to state legislative candidates in any consistent, significant way.

However, the positive relationship between a governor's popularity and legislative seats gained by his/her party in the legislature is the one pervasive theme that emerged consistently throughout this project. The result was evident even when variables representing national level candidates, elections and/or officeholders are included. The predicted/expected value for the dependent variable increases during ?on? gubernatorial election years, when an incumbent governor is seeking reelection. The consistent statistical significance associated with both variables representing the governor's popularity indicates that partisan "cues" may be pertinent factors that help determine voting behavior in state legislative elections.

State Legislative Elections, Gubernatorial Coattails