The Changing Regional Subcultures of the American States and the Utility of a New Cultural Measure

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study analyzes changes in the regional subcultures of the United States using 2000 census and religious survey data. The results suggest a remarkable degree of continuity with those the authors identified in an earlier study. In addition, they demonstrate that a new multidimensional measure of state culture does a much better job in predicting social and political behavior than other frequently used indicators. Finally, they show how their new measure of state culture significantly reduces and often eliminates the problem of spatial autocorrelation in many state-level indicators that cannot be explained by differences in economic development and racial-ethnic diversity.

Keywords

political culture, regional subculture, state government, American federalism, social capital, immigration policy

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The persistent effects of American political culture and its subcultures on the political processes, governmental institutions, and public policies of the American states, along with those of economic development and social diversity, have proven fundamental to a comprehensive understanding of American federalism (Elazar 1966, 1970, 1994; Dye 1997; Hero 1998, 2007). Culture is important because it shapes people's basic racial, ethnic, religious, and social identities. It provides norms and rules on how they should behave and relate to others. And it determines what kinds of social relationships and institutions are acceptable and legitimate (Dreitzel 1977; Wildavsky 1987; Huntington 2004; Renshon 2005).

Culture also influences the types of social problems that are found in state and local communities (Banfield 1970). It affects the scope of racial and ethnic inequalities that persist and are tolerated in American life (Hochschild 1995; Hero and Tolbert 1996; Hero 1998, 2003a). It influences the kinds of political organizations and activities that are encouraged or discouraged in American politics (Elazar 1966, 1970, 1994). It affects the range of governmental actions that are taken by states and communities. And it arguably helps define the possibilities for and limits of progressive politics (Nye 1951; Schrag 1998).1

In short, political culture provides answers to fundamental questions that are raised in state politics about what government should do, how it should be structured, what rules of the game should be followed, and who should participate (Press and VerBurg 1983, 51). Culture, however, should not be confused or equated with ideology (Erikson, McIver, and Wright 1987; Erikson, Wright, and McIver 1994). While an ideology generally specifies the types of policies that government should pursue, culture specifies how government should operate (Wilson and DiIulio 1998, 87).

The concept of political subculture itself has been used to explain regional and sectional differences in the settlement of the United States (Zelinsky 1973), differences in the cultural values and "folkways" of four distinctive British waves (Fischer 1989; Huntington 2004), variations in social and economic development among the American states (Gastil 1975; Garreau 1981; Dye 1997), differences in the quality of urban life (Lieske 1990), and differences in the political processes, institutional structures, political behavior, and policies and programs of state and local government (Elazar 1966, 1970, 1994; Sharkansky 1969). Elazar's typology alone has generated over one hundred empirical studies (Kincaid and Lieske 1991). But one of the most persistent criticisms made of this literature concerns the difficulties of measuring political culture. None of the extant measures were based on any rigorous statistical methodology. And most appeared to be too crude, too "political," too circular, or too dated to be practical and useful.

To address these criticisms, we developed a new measure of regional subculture that satisfies the following properties. …