Public Support for Professional Legislatures

David Fortunato, Joshua McCrain*, Kaylyn Jackson Schiff

*Corresponding author for this work

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Evidence suggests that well-funded, professional legislatures more effectively provide constituents with their preferred policies and may improve social welfare. Yet, legislative resources across state legislatures have stagnated or dwindled at least in part due to public antagonism toward increasing representatives’ salaries. We argue that one reason voters oppose legislative resources, like salary and staff, is that they are unaware of the potential benefits. Employing a pre-registered survey experiment with a pre–post design, we find that subjects respond positively to potential social welfare benefits of professionalization, increasing support for greater resources. We also find that individuals identifying with the legislative majority party respond positively to potential responsiveness benefits and that out-partisans do not respond negatively to potential responsiveness costs. In a separate survey of political elites, we find similar patterns. These results suggest that a key barrier to increasing legislative professionalism – anticipated public backlash – may not be insurmountable. The findings also highlight a challenge of institutional choice: beliefs that representatives are unresponsive or ineffective lead to governing institutions that may ensure these outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalState Politics & Policy Quarterly
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)327-339
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

Published online: 18 April 2023.


  • Legislative professionalism
  • Survey experiment
  • State legislatures
  • Legislative staff
  • Public opinion

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