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Persistent Policy Pathways: Inferring Diffusion Networks in the American States


The transmission of ideas, information, and resources forms the core of many issues studied in political science, including collective action, cooperation, and development. While these processes imply dynamic connections among political actors, researchers often cannot observe such interdependence. One example is public policy diffusion, which has long been a focus of multiple subfields. In the American state politics context, diffusion is commonly conceptualized as a dyadic process whereby states adopt policies (in part) because other states have adopted them. This implies a policy diffusion network connecting the states. Using a dataset of 187 policies, we introduce and apply an algorithm that infers this network from persistent diffusion patterns. The results contribute to knowledge on state policy diffusion in several respects. Additionally, in introducing network inference to political science, we provide scholars across the discipline with a general framework for empirically recovering the latent and dynamic interdependence among political actors.

Corresponding author
Bruce A. Desmarais is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 420 Thompson Hall, 200 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA 01003 (
Jeffrey J. Harden is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Colorado Boulder, 416 Fleming, UCB 333, Boulder, CO 80309 (
Frederick J. Boehmke is Professor, Department of Political Science, and Director of the Social Science Program in the Public Policy Center, University of Iowa, 341 Schaeffer Hall, Iowa City, IA 52242 (
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
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