Ideological Cleavage, Political Competition, and
Policy Making in the American States
The most frequent treatment of the effects of ideology on policy outputs in the states suggests a politics of agreement wherein the dominant ideological persuasion within any state elects a majority to the legislature and, as a direct consequence, gets the lion’s share of rewards from state government. These rewards may be public policies, judicial decisions, and other products of the state (see, e.g., Brace, Sims-Butler, Arceneaux, and Johnson, 2002; Erikson, Wright, and McIver, 1993; Langer, 2002; Norrander and Rivera, 2002). Even though that statement may be for the most part accurate, it is possible that the measure of ideology most often employed—the average liberalism or conservatism of a state’s citizenry1—masks some important variation in public opinion that may exist. States whose citizens have an average ideological liberalism of 65 (on a scale of 0–100) with a standard deviation of 5 may exhibit different politics than a state whose citizenry reports a mean score of 65 but with a standard deviation of 2. How this matters is unclear; policies may be easier to enact in the first state and more conflictual in the latter, and this increasing conflict may temper the effects of opinion liberalism on public policy outputs. In short, differences of opinion may matter. In this chapter I consider not only the tendency of opinion within states as an influence on public policies, but consider as well the diversity of opinion.
Political scientists have largely settled the “politics versus economics” debate and have for nearly 20 years been developing increasingly nuanced