State Level Representation: Graphed

I got in to an interesting email discussion this past weekend about a recent Daily Beast article “The Republican Lawmaker Who Secretly Created Reddit’s Women-Hating ‘Red Pill’“, that ended up sparking a train of thought mostly unrelated to the original topic (not uncommon for me). The story is an investigation in to a previously anonymous user who started an infamous subreddit, and the Daily Beast’s discovery that he was actually an elected official in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

Given that I am originally from New Hampshire and all my family still lives there, I was intrigued by the story both for the “hey! that’s my state!” factor and the “oh man, the New Hampshire House of Representatives is really hard to explain to a national audience” level. Everyone I was emailing with either lives in New Hampshire or grew up there (as I did), so the topic quickly switched to how unusual the New Hampshire state legislature is, and how it’s hard for a national news outlet to truly capture that. For starters, the NH state House of Representatives has nearly as many seats (400) as the US House of Representatives (435), and double the number of seats of the next closest state (Pennsylvania with 200), all while having a state population of a little over 1 million people. Next is the low pay. For their service, those 400 people make a whopping $200 dollars for a two year term. Some claim this is not the lowest paying gig in the state level representation game, since other states like New Mexico pay no salary, but a quick look at this page shows that those state pay a daily per diem that would quickly go over $200. New Hampshire has no per diem, meaning most members of the House will spend more in gas money than they make during their term.

As you can imagine, this set up does not pull from a random sample of the population.

This conversation got me thinking about how often state level politicians get quoted in news articles, and got me wondering about how we interpret what those officials do. Growing up in NH gave me the impression that most state level representatives didn’t have much power, but in my current state (Massachusetts) they actually do have some clout and frequently move on to higher posts.

This of course got me curious about how other states did things. When lawmakers from individual states make the news, I suspect most of us assume that they operate much the same way as lawmakers in our own state do and that could lead to confusion about how powerful/not powerful the person we’re talking about really is. Ballotpedia breaks state legislatures down in to 3 categories: full time or close (10 states), high part-time (23 states), low part-time (17 states). A lot of that appears to have to do with the number of people you are representing. I decided to do a few graphs to illustrate.

First, here is the size of each states “lower house” vs the number of people each lower house member represents:

Note: Nebraska doesn’t have a lower house, at least according to Wikipedia. NH and CA are pretty clear outliers in terms of size and population, respectively.

State senates appear much less variable:

So next time you read an article about a state level representative doing something silly, keep this graph in mind. For some states, you are talking about a fairly well compensated person with lots of constituents, who probably had to launch a coordinated campaign to get their spot and may have higher ambitions. For other states, you’re talking about someone who was willing to show up.

Here’s the data  if you’re in to that sort of thing. I got the salary data here, the state population data here and the number of seats in the house here. As always, please update me if you see any errors!

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