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The Diffusion of Innovations among the American States*

  • Jack L. Walker (a1)


We are now in the midst of a notable revival of interest in the politics of the American states. During the last decade many studies have been conducted of the social, political and economic determinants of state policy outcomes. Several of these writers have argued that the relative wealth of a state, its degree of industrialization, and other measures of social and economic development are more important in explaining its level of expenditures than such political factors as the form of legislative apportionment, the amount of party competition, or the degree of voter participation. It has been claimed that such factors as the level of personal income or the size of the urban population are responsible both for the degree of participation and party competition in a state, and the nature of the system's policy outputs. By making this argument these writers have called into question the concepts of representation and theories of party and group conflict which, in one form or another, are the foundations for much of American political science.

There is a growing awareness, however, that levels of expenditure alone are not an adequate measure of public policy outcomes. Sharkansky has shown, for example, that levels of expenditure and levels of actual service are seldom correlated; presumably, some states are able to reach given service levels with much less expenditure than others. Besides establishing the appropriate level of expenditure for a program, policy makers must also decide about the program's relative scope, provisions for appeal from administrative orders, eligibility requirements, the composition of regulatory boards and commissions, and many other matters which have little to do with money.



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Thanks are due to the Committee on Governmental and Legal Processes of the Social Science Research Council, the Carnegie Corporation, the Michigan Legislative Intern Program, and the Rackham Faculty Research Fund of the University of Michigan for grants which made this study possible; to Mrs. Adarsh Trehan, Doyle Buckwaiter, Michael Traugott, Mrs. Jennifer Drew Campbell, and Terry Bender who assisted in the collection and analysis of the data; and to H. Douglas Price, Rufus Browning, Warren Miller, Lawrence Mohr, Robert Friedman, Joel Aberbach, Robert Putnam, Ronald Brunner, Dennis Riley, Gail MacColl, and my wife, Linda Walker, whose criticisms and comments have helped me avoid several errors of inference and judgment.



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1 Beginning with Dawson, Richard E. and Robinson, James A., “Inter-Party Competition, Economic Variables, and Welfare Policies in the American States,” Journal of Politics (05, 1963), 265289 , there have been numerous articles and books on the subject. The most recent summary is: Fenton, John H. and Chamberlayne, Donald W., “The Literature Dealing with the Relationships Between Political Processes, Socio-economic Conditions and Public Policies in the American States: A Bibliographical Essay,” Polity (Spring, 1969), 388394 .

2 For examples see: Jacob, Herbert, “The Consequences of Malapportionment: A Note of Caution,” Social Forces (1964), 260266 ; the chapters by Salisbury, Robert, Friedman, Robert, Dye, Thomas, and Dawson, and Robinson, in: Jacob, Herbert and Vines, Kenneth (eds.), Politics in the American States: A Comparative Analysis (Boston, 1965); Hofferbert, Richard I., “The Relation Between Public Policy and Some Structural and Environmental Variables in the American States,” this Review (03, 1966), 7382 ; and Dye, Thomas, Politics, Economics and the Public: Policy Outcomes in the American States (Chicago, 1966).

3 For an evaluation of the significance of this literature and its implications for political science see: Salisbury, Robert, “The Analysis of Public Policy: A Search for Theories and Roles,” in Ranney, Austin (ed.), Political Science and Public Policy (Chicago, 1968), pp. 151178 .

4 Sharkansky, Ira, “Government Expenditures and Public Services in the American States,” this Review (1967), 10661077 . Sharkansky also identifies important political variables in his: Economic and Political Correlates of State Government Expenditures: General Tendencies and Deviant Cases,” Midwest Journal of Political Science (1967), 173192 .

5 There is a well established body of research on the diffusion of innovations from which I have drawn many insights. For general reviews of this literature see: Rogers, Everett M., Diffusion of Innovations (New York, 1962), Katz, Elihu, Levin, Martin L., and Hamilton, Herbert, “Traditions of Research in the Diffusion of Innovations,” American Sociological Review (1963), 237252 . For early attempts to study the American states from this perspective see: Davis, Ada J., “The Evolution of the Institution of Mothers' Pensions in the United States,” American Journal of Sociology (1930), 573582 ; McVoy, Edgar C., “Patterns of Diffusion in the United States,” American Sociological Review (1940), 219227 ; and Sutherland, E. H., “The Diffusion of Sexual Psychopath Laws,” American Journal of Sociology (19501951), 144156 . Also see: Hagerstrand, Torsten, Innovation Diffusion as a Spatial Process (Chicago, 1967); and Mason, Robert and Halter, Albert N., “The Application of a System of Simultaneous Equations to an Innovation Diffusion Model,” Social Forces (1968), 182193 .

6 For examples see: Steiner, Gary A. (ed.), The Creative Organization (Chicago, 1965); and Burns, Tom and Stalker, G. M., The Management of Innovation (London, 1961).

7 There is much confusion over this distinction in the literature on diffusion. For an excellent discussion of the problem see: Mohr, Lawrence B., “Determinants of Innovation in Organizations,” this Review (1969), 111126 .

8 Once the mistake was discovered, the Arkansas statute, which reproduced a model prepared by the National Association of Retail Druggists, was copied either verbatim or with minor changes by seventeen states. Grether, Ewald T., Price Control Under Fair Trade Legislation (New York, 1937), pp. 1920 .

9 In later work I will report the results of comparisons of the diffusion patterns of issues from different subject matter areas. Preliminary efforts at such comparisons, however, have not revealed significant variations. There does not seem to be much difference in the diffusion patterns of issues of different types.

10 For a discussion of this phenomenon see: Edelman, Murray, The Symbolic Uses of Politics (Urbana, 1964), chapters 2 and 9.

11 Lockard, Duane, Toward Equal Opportunity (New York, 1968), p. 23 .

12 The beginning point for the existence of each state was the date upon which it was officially organized as a territory. Using this system, Oklahoma is the last state to come into being, having been organized in 1890. If a program began its diffusion before a state came into existence, that issue was not included in figuring the innovation score for the state.

13 Alaska and Hawaii were omitted from the analysis because data for their years of adoption were often missing.

14 Rogers, Everett M., Diffusion of Innovations (New York, 1962), pp. 40, 285292 . Also see: Eisenstadt, S. N., The Political Systems of Empires (New York, 1963), p. 27, 33112 .

15 For a discussion of “slack” resources and innovation see: Cyert, Richard M. and March, James G., A Behavioral Theory of the Firm (Englewood Cliffs, NJ., 1963), pp. 278279 .

16 Rogers, op. cit., Mohr, op. cit.; and also: Mansfield, Edwin, “The Speed of Response of Firms to New Techniques,” Quarterly Journal of Economics (1963), 293304 ; Hage, Jerald and Aiken, Michael, “Program Change and Organizational Properties: A Comparative Analysis,” American Journal of Sociology (1967), 516517 ; and Hall, Richard J., Haas, S. Eugene, and Johnson, Norman J., “Organizational Size, Complexity and Formalization,” American Sociological Review (1967), 903912 .

17 Regional affects of this kind appear frequently in analyses of data from the American states. In many studies, especially those which involve measures of political participation or party competition, strong relationships appear which are actually only a result of the distinctive nature of the southern states. In order to insure that the correlations in this analysis were not merely a result of the social and political peculiarities of the South, the eleven states of the confederacy were removed from all distributions. Since the Southern states do not cluster at one extreme of the innovation scale, no great changes occurred in correlation coefficients based upon data from the thirty-nine states outside the South. Within the eleven Southern states, however, almost all the relationships were substantially reduced in size. Because only eleven states, are involved, this fact is difficult to interpret, but will be treated more fully in later work. For an example of this problem discussed in another context see: Wolfinger, Raymond and Field, John Osgood, “Political Ethos and the Structure of City Government,” this Review (1966), 306326 . For a more extensive discussion of the methodological implications see the discussion of “interaction effects” in Forbes, Hugh Donald and Tufte, Edward R., “A Note of Caution in Causal Modelling,” this Review (1968), pp. 12611262 ; and the communication from Dennis D. Riley and Jack L. Walker, this Review (September, 1969), pp. 880–899.

18 Lowi, Theodore, “Toward Functionalism in Political Science: The Case of Innovation in Party Systems,” this Review (1963), 570583 . Evidence which seems to confirm Lowi's theory may be found in: Wiggens, Charles W., “Party Politics in the Iowa Legislature,” Midwest Journal of Political Science (1967), 6069 ; and Bryan, Frank M., “The Metamorphosis of a Rural Legislature,” Polity (1968), 191212 .

19 Joseph A. Schlesinger has developed an index of the “general opportunity level” in each state. The index measures the relative number of chances which exist in each state to achieve major political office. See: Ambition and Politics: Political Careers in the United States (Chicago, 1966), pp. 3756 .

20 Barber, James D., The Lawmakers: Recruitment and Adaptation to Legislative Life (New Haven, 1965). For testimony from legislators about the importance of reapportionment see: Bryan, Frank M., “Who is Legislating,” National Civic Review (12, 1967), 627633 ; Dines, Allan, “A Reapportioned State,” National Civic Review (02, 1966), 70–74, 99 .

21 Rogers, op. cit. Also see: Mansfield, op. cit.; Coleman, James S., Katz, Elihu, and Menzel, Herbert, Medical Innovation: A Diffusion Study (Indianapolis, 1966); and Loy, John W. Jr., “Social Psychological Characteristics of Innovators,” American Sociological Review (1969), 7382 .

22 For a somewhat different view see: Meller, Norman, “Legislative Staff Services: Toxin, Specific, or Placebo for the Legislature's Ills,” The Western Political Quarterly (06, 1967), 381389 .

23 There is one other index in existence which deals with political phenomenon: Rodney Mott's Index of Judicial Prestige. The Mott index measures the degree to which state supreme courts were used as models by the legal profession. It is based on a study of citations in federal Supreme Court decisions and all state supreme court decisions, the number of cases reprinted in standard textbooks, and the opinion of a panel of prominent legal scholars; it covers the period 1900 to 1930. The Mott index and the innovation score from the same time period are correlated at .62. This finding might be interpreted to mean that emulative behavior in the judicial arena is not much different from that in the legislative arena. For details of the Judicial Prestige Index see: Mott, Rodney L., “Judicial Influence,” this Review (1936), 295315 .

24 Data for this table was derived from Richard Hofferbert's collection, “American State Socioeconomic, Electoral, and Policy Data: 1890-1960” which he has graciously allowed me to use.

25 The sources are : Hofferbert, Richard, “Classification of American State Party Systems,” Journal of Politics (1964), 550567 ; Riley, Dennis and Walker, Jack L., “Problems of Measurement and Inference in the Study of the American States” (Paper delivered at the Institute of Public Policy Studies, University of Michigan, 1968); David and Eisenberg, op. cit.; Shubert, Glendon and Press, Charles, “Measuring Malapportionment,” this Review (1964), 302327 , and corrections, 968-970; Schlesinger, op. cit.; and Gramm, John, “Structure and Policy in the Legislature,” (Paper presented at the Southwestern Social Science Association Meetings, 1967).

26 Although much simpler than the Schubert and Press measure, the David and Eisenberg index seems to have more relevance to political outcomes. Thomas Dye had the same experience. See Dye, op. cit., pp. 19–20, 63–69, 112–114, 146–148, 174–177, 236–237, 270–281.

27 Jacob, Herbert, “The Consequences of Malapportionment: A Note of Caution,” Social Forces (1964), 260266 ; Dye, Thomas R., “Malapportionment and Public Policy in the States,” Journal of Politics (1965), 586601 ; Hofferbert, Richard I., “The Relation Between Public Policy and Some Structural and Environmental Variables in the American States,” this. Review (1966), 7382 ; Brady, David and Edmonds, Douglas, “One Man, One Vote—So What?Transaction (03, 1967), 4146 . A recent article calls some of the conclusions of this research into question: Pulsipher, Alan G. and Weatherby, James L. Jr., “Malapportionment, Party Competition, and the Functional Distribution of Governmental Expenditures,” this Review (1968), 12071219 .

28 Examples of this general approach to policy making are: Truman, David B., The Governmental Process (New York, 1960); Banfield, Edward, Political influence (New York, 1961); and Neustadt, Richard E., Presidential Power (New York, 1960). For an excellent critique of theories which employ concepts of power as a major explanatory variable see: March, James G., “The Power of Power,” in Easton, David (ed.), Varieties of Political Theory (Englewood Cliffs, 1966), pp. 3970 .

29 Lowell, A. Lawrence, “The Influence of Party Upon Legislation,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association (1901), pp. 321543 .

30 The best example is: Dahl, Robert, “The Concept of Power,” Behavioral Science (1957), pp. 201215 .

31 For the best general review of the results of research on the legislative process, see: Jewell, Malcolm E. and Patterson, Samuel C., The Legislative Process in the United States (New York, 1966).

32 For a discussion of these techniques see: Anderson, Lee F., Watts, Meridith W. Jr. and Wilcox, Allen R., Legislative Roll-Call Analysis (Evanston, 1966). Also see Jewell and Patterson, op. cit., pp. 528–550.

33 Riker, William H., “A Method for Determining the Significance of Roll Calls in Voting Bodies,” in Wahlke, John C. and Eulau, Heinz (eds.), Legislative Behavior (Glencoe, 1959), pp. 337383 .

34 Jewell and Patterson, op. cit., p. 416.

35 Thanks to a grant from the Carnegie Corporation I have been able to launch a pilot study involving interviews in several states.

36 I refer to: Simon, Herbert, Administrative Behavior, Second Edition (New York, 1957); Cyert, Richard M. and March, James C., A Behavioral Theory of the Firm (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1963); and Lindblom, Charles E., The Intelligence of Democracy (New York, 1965).

37 For a comprehensive review of the literature on decision making see: Donald W. Taylor, “Decision Making and Problem Solving,” and Feldman, Julia and Kanter, Herschel E., “Organizational Decision Making,” in March, James G. (ed.) Handbook of Organizations (Chicago, 1965), pp. 48–86, 614649 . Also see: Scott, W. Richard, “Theory of Organizations,” in Faris, Robert E. L. (ed.), Handbook of Modern Sociology (Chicago, 1964), pp. 485529 .

38 Decision rules of this kind are mentioned in both Taylor, op. cit., pp. 73–74; and Cyert and March, op. cit., especially pp. 34–3.

39 Evan, William M., “The Organization-Set: Toward a Theory of Inter-Organizational Relations,” in Thompson, James D. (ed.) Approaches to Organizational Design (Pittsburgh, 1966), pp. 173191 .

40 Some recent examples are: Anderson, William, The Nation and the States, Rivals or Partners? (Minneapolis, 1955); Vile, M. J. C., The Structure of American Federalism (London, 1961); Riker, William, Federalism: Origin, Operation, Significance (Boston, 1964); Elazar, Daniel J., American Federalism: A View From the States (New York, 1966); Grodzins, Morton, The American System (Chicago, 1966). For a general critique see: Birch, A. H., “Approaches to the Study of Federalism,” Political Studies (1966), 1533 .

41 This is not the first study to discover the important role of emulation and competition in the development of public policy. Hofferbert, Richard in: “Ecological Development and Policy Change in the American States,” Midwest Journal of Political Science (1966), p. 485 ; and Sharkansky, Ira in: “Regionalism, Economic Status and the Public Policies of American States,” Southwestern Social Science Quarterly (1968) both mention the influence of other states in the calculations of state decision makers. Several earlier students of local government complained that sparsely populated, arid Western states had blindly copied from the heavily populated Eastern states forms of local government which were inappropriately suited for the conditions prevailing in the Great Plains. See: Goodman, A. Bristol, “Westward Movement of Local Government,” The Journal of Land and Public Utility Economics (1944), pp. 2034 ; Walker, Herman Jr. and Hansen, Peter L., “Local Government and Rainfall,” this Review (1946), 11131123 . Robert L. Crain has recently used emulation as a principal explanatory variable in his study of the spread of water fluoridation programs among American cities: Fluoridation: The Diffusion of an Innovation Among Cities,” Social Forces (1966), 467476 ; as did Scott, Thomas M. in his: “The Diffusion of Urban Governmental Forms as a Case of Social Learning,” The Journal of Politics (1968), 10911108 .

42 This set of hypotheses is consistent with more general theories concerning the manner in which human beings formulate judgments and establish expectations in all areas of life. See: Festinger, Leon, “A Theory of Social Comparison Processes,” Human Relations (1954), 117140 ; and Merton, Robert, Social Theory and Social Structure (Rev. Ed.; Gloncoe, 1957), pp. 225420 .

43 Harsanyi, John C., “Rational Choice Models v. Functionalistic and Conformistic Models of Political Behavior,” (Paper delivered at American Political Science Association Meetings, 1967), p. 17 .

44 Lockard, Duane, Toward Equal Opportunity (New York, 1968), pp. 2021 .

45 Spitz, Allan, “The Transplantation of American Democratic Institutions,” Political Science Quarterly (1967), 386398 .

46 Lockard, Duane, Connecticut's Challenge Primary: A Study in Legislative Politics (Eagleton Case #7, New York, 1959).

47 Ibid., p. 2.

48 Ibid., p. 22.

49 May, Ronald J., Financial Inequality Between States in a Federal System (unpublished doctoral dissertation submitted to Nuffield College, Oxford University, 1966), p. 168 .

50 For a somewhat similar argument concerning government spending see: Downs, Anthony, “Why the Government Budget is too Small in a Democracy,” World Politics (07, 1960), 541563 .

51 Hansen, Alvin H., The Postwar American Economy: Performance and Probhms (New York, 1964), pp. 3031 .

52 For evidence of this perspective, see Anton, Thomas J., The Politics of State Expenditure in Illinois (Urbana, 1966), p. 263 .

53 Masters, Nicholas A., Salisbury, Robert, and Eliot, Thomas H., State Politics and the Public Schools (New York, 1964), p. 12 .

54 Ibid., p. 25.

55 Ibid., p. 21. For a similar discussion of the importance of aspirations in determining the speed with which innovations are adopted see: Browning, Rufus P., “Innovative and Noninnovative Decision Processes in Government Budgeting,” in Golembiewski, Robert T. (ed.), Public Budgeting and Finance (Itasca, Illinois, 1968), pp. 128145 .

56 Unpublished memo from the Council of State Governments, Chicago, Illinois.

57 For a discussion of the role of professional organizations in determining career lines see: Katz, Fred E., “Occupational Contact Networks,” Social Forces (1958), 5258 . Also see: Ladinsky, Jack, “Occupational Determinants of Geographic Mobility Among Professional Workers,” American Sociological Review (1967), 253264 .

58 Merton, op. cit. Also see: Gouldner, Alvin W., “Cosmopolitans and Locals: Toward an Analysis of Latent Social Roles,” Administrative Science Quarterly (1957), 281306 ; and Wilen-sky, Harold L., Intellectuals in Labor Unions (Glencoe, 1956).

59 A small portion of the difference between the two columns in Table 6 is an artifact of measurement. Since not all the programs in this analysis have been adopted by all forty-eight states, laggard states sometimes remain. As time passes and programs receive widespread acceptance these laggard states slowly fall into line and adopt the programs. Since the programs in the first two time periods have been around longer, they have more likely completed their spread among lhe states and thus, given our scoring procedure; are also more likely to have a longer period of diffusion.

60 The best recent analysis of long-term changes in the American political system is: Stokes, Donald, “Parties and the Nationalization of Electoral Forces,” in Chambers, William N. and Burnham, William D. (eds.), The American Party Systems: Stages of Political Development (New York, 1967), pp. 182202 . Also see: Glenn, Norval D. and Simmons, J. L., “Are Regional Cultural Differences Diminishing?Public Opinion Quarterly (1967), 196205 ; and Sharkansky, Ira, “Economic Development, Regionalism and State Political Systems,” Midwest Journal of Political Science (1968), 4161 .

61 When the data are combined in this manner the 1870–1929 matrix contains 42 issues and the 1930–1966 matrix contains 46 issues.

62 See Alan L. Clem's description Of the isolation of Pierre, the capitol of South Dakota, in his: Prairie State Politics: Popular Democracy in South Dakota (Washington, 1967), p. 137 ; and Norton E. Long's emphasis on the importance of information sources in his: After the Voting is Over,” Midwest Journal of Political Science (1962), 183200 . For a general review of communications theory and its application to politics see: Fagen, Richard R., Politics and Communication (Boston, 1966), especially pp. 34–69, 88106 . Also see: Deutsch, Karl W., The Nerves of Government, Second Edition, (New York, 1966), especially, pp. 145256 .

63 Questions of this kind have been raised already in: Moynihan, Daniel P., “The Professionalization of Reform,” The Public Interest (1965),. 616 ; Lowi, Theodore, “The Public Philosophy: Interest Group Liberalism,” this Review (1967), 524 ; and Green, Philip, “Science, Government, and the Case of RAND: A Singular Pluralism,” World Politics (1968), 301326 .

* Thanks are due to the Committee on Governmental and Legal Processes of the Social Science Research Council, the Carnegie Corporation, the Michigan Legislative Intern Program, and the Rackham Faculty Research Fund of the University of Michigan for grants which made this study possible; to Mrs. Adarsh Trehan, Doyle Buckwaiter, Michael Traugott, Mrs. Jennifer Drew Campbell, and Terry Bender who assisted in the collection and analysis of the data; and to H. Douglas Price, Rufus Browning, Warren Miller, Lawrence Mohr, Robert Friedman, Joel Aberbach, Robert Putnam, Ronald Brunner, Dennis Riley, Gail MacColl, and my wife, Linda Walker, whose criticisms and comments have helped me avoid several errors of inference and judgment.


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