Public Opinion in State Politics

By Jeffrey E. Cohen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Citizen Influences on State Policy Priorities:
The Interplay of Public Opinion and Interest Groups

SAUNDRA K. SCHNEIDER AND WILLIAM G. JACOBY

POLITICAL SCIENTISTS generally believe that public opinion affects public policy within the American states. Although such a connection may seem obvious, firm empirical evidence for the existence of this relationship has only been presented quite recently. Early studies of state policy making emphasized economic factors as the predominant determinants of governmental activity (Dawson and Robinson, 1963; Dye, 1966; Sharkansky and Hofferbert, 1969). Once variables like per capita income, gross state product, and employment levels were taken into account, political characteristics like party composition of state legislatures, gubernatorial partisanship, and political culture seemed to have no effect. These results were replicated a number of times and widely accepted by state politics scholars (Hofferbert, 1974).

Of course, political scientists were extremely uncomfortable about the sizable body of empirical evidence that showed politics was irrelevant to governmental decision making within the states. Therefore, research continued on this topic with dogged determination to show otherwise (Erikson, 1976; Pool, Abelson, and Popkin, 1965; Weber, Hopkins, Mezey, and Munger, 1972–1973; Weber and Shafer, 1972). The major breakthrough occurred with the pioneering work by Wright, Erikson, and McIver (1985). They used survey data, aggregated to the state level, in order to develop measures of citizen partisanship and ideology within each state. They provide compelling evidence that these measures are

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