Is fair representation good for children? effects of electoral partisan bias in state legislatures on policies affecting children's health and well-being

Canan Karatekin, Susan Marshall Mason, Michael Latner, Bria Gresham, Frederique Corcoran, Anna Hing, Andrew J. Barnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasing evidence suggests that state policies impact constituents' health, but political determinants of health and health inequities remain understudied. Using state and year fixed-effects models, we determined the extent to which changes in electoral partisan bias in lower chambers of U.S. state legislatures (i.e., discrepancy between statewide vote share and seat share) were followed by changes in five state policies affecting children and families (1980–2019) and a composite of safety net programs (1999–2018). We examined effects on each policy and whether the effect was modified when bias was accompanied by unified party control. Next, we determined whether the effect differed depending on which party it favored. Less bias resulted only in higher AFDC/TANF benefits. Both pro-Democratic and pro-Republican bias was followed by decreased AFDC/TANF benefits and increased Medicaid benefits. AFDC/TANF recipients, unemployment benefits, minimum wage, and pre-K-12 education spending increased following pro-Democratic bias and decreased following pro-Republican bias. Estimated effects on the composite measure of safety net policies were all close to null. Some effects were modulated by unified party control. Results demonstrate that increasing fairness in elections is not a panacea by itself for increasing generosity of programs affecting children's well-being. Indeed, bias can be somewhat beneficial for the expansiveness of some policies. Furthermore, with the exception of unemployment benefits and AFDC/TANF recipients, Democrats have not been using the additional power that comes with electoral bias to spend more on major programs that benefit children. Finally, after decades in which electoral bias was in Democrats' favor, bias has started to shift toward Republicans in the last decade. This trend forecasts more cuts in almost all the policies in this study, especially education and AFDC/TANF recipients. There is a need for more research and advocacy emphasis on the political determinants of social determinants of health, especially at the state level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number116344
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd


  • Education spending
  • Medicaid
  • Minimum wage
  • Partisan bias
  • Political determinants of health
  • Social determinants of health and health inequities
  • TANF
  • Unemployment benefits

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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