Public Choice

, Volume 156, Issue 3–4, pp 443–465 | Cite as

Ideology and the size of US state government

  • Andrew C. Pickering
  • James Rockey


This paper theorizes that the impact of ideology on the size of US state governments increases with state income. This idea is tested using state-level ideology data derived from the voting behavior of state congressional representatives. Empirically the interaction of ideology and mean income is a key determinant of state government size. At 1960s levels of income the impact of ideology is negligible. At 1997 levels of income a one standard-deviation move towards the left of the ideology spectrum increases state government size by about half a standard deviation. Estimated income elasticities differentiated by state and time are found to be increasing with ideology and diminishing with income, as predicted by the theory.


Ideology Wagner’s law Size of government 

JEL Classification

D72 H10 



We thank Tim Besley and Richard Fording for making their data available and seminar participants at the University of York. We also thank the editor and the anonymous referees. The standard disclaimer applies. Part of this work took place whilst Rockey was visiting the Institut d’Economia de Barcelona and he is grateful for their generous support and hospitality.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics and Related StudiesUniversity of YorkYorkUK
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of LeicesterLeicesterUK

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