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Policy Preferences and Policy Change: Dynamic Responsiveness in the American States, 1936–2014

  • DEVIN CAUGHEY (a1) and CHRISTOPHER WARSHAW (a2)
Abstract

Using eight decades of data, we examine the magnitude, mechanisms, and moderators of dynamic responsiveness in the American states. We show that on both economic and (especially) social issues, the liberalism of state publics predicts future change in state policy liberalism. Dynamic responsiveness is gradual, however; large policy shifts are the result of the cumulation of incremental responsiveness over many years. Partisan control of government appears to mediate only a fraction of responsiveness, suggesting that, contrary to conventional wisdom, responsiveness occurs in large part through the adaptation of incumbent officials. Dynamic responsiveness has increased over time but does not seem to be influenced by institutions such as direct democracy or campaign finance regulations. We conclude that our findings, though in some respects normatively ambiguous, on the whole paint a reassuring portrait of statehouse democracy.

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Corresponding author
Devin Caughey is an Associate Professor (without tenure), Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room E53-463, Cambridge, MA 02139-4301 (devin.caughey@gmail.com).
Christopher Warshaw is an Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, George Washington University, 2115 G Street NW, Monroe Hall 440, Washington, DC 20052 (cwarshaw@gmail.com).
Footnotes
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Replication files for this article can be downloaded from Caughey, Devin, Warshaw, Christopher. 2017. Replication data for “Policy Preferences and Policy Change: Dynamic Responsiveness in the American States, 1936–2014,” doi:10.7910/DVN/K3QWZW, Harvard Dataverse. We thank Bob Erikson, Martin Gilens, Seth Hill, Luke Keele, Thad Kousser, Jeffrey Lax, Justin Phillips, Jim Stimson, Yiqing Xu; seminar participants at Columbia University, Washington University–St. Louis, Texas A&M, Georgetown University, George Washington University, and Princeton University; and panelists at the 2014 American Political Science Association Conference and 2016 State Politics Conference for feedback on previous versions of this manuscript. We appreciate the excellent research assistance of Melissa Meek, James Dunham, Robert Pressel, Meg Goldberg, Kelly Alexander, Aneesh Anand, Tiffany Chung, Emma Frank, Joseff Kolman, Mathew Peterson, Steve Powell, Charlotte Swasey, Lauren Ullmann, and Amy Wickett. We also appreciate the willingness of Carl Klarner to generously share data. We are grateful for research support from the dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at MIT. All mistakes, however, are our own.

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