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Polarized Federalism: Activists, Voters, and the Resurgence of State Policy in the U.S.


This dissertation investigates the causes and consequences of policy variation and policy polarization in the U.S. states. Chapter 2 describes policy change over time. Since the 1970s, state governments have implemented important policies while national policymaking has slowed, such that Americans' relationships to government are increasingly determined by their states of residence. This policy variation is increasingly associated with party control of state government, and carries major consequences for the lives of residents. Chapter 3 further investigates the measurement of policy outcomes, suggesting that prior measures may understate policy polarization in recent years. Chapter 4 estimates the relationship between public opinion and policy outcomes. Results suggest that this relationship varies widely by policy issue area, with marijuana and LGBT rights policy showing strong responsiveness. While public opinion may play an inconsistent role in state policy change, Chapter 5 suggests that changes in activist group behavior may influence legislative behavior and policy outcomes in the states. The implications of this dissertation challenge traditional theories of federalism and state politics, suggesting that organized and well-resourced political actors, not ordinary voters, have collapsed American politics into a single national arena of contestation over the direction of public policy.

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