Public Opinion in State Politics

By Jeffrey E. Cohen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
Public Opinion in the States:
A Quarter Century of Change and Stability

ROBERT S. ERIKSON, GERALD C. WRIGHT, AND
JOHN P. MCIVER


Introduction

More than a decade ago, our book Statehouse Democracy (Erikson, Wright, and McIver, 1993) reported detailed depictions of the states in terms of citizens’ partisan and ideological identifications. That effort was motivated by the then lack of any valid and reliable measures of public opinion in the states. As a result, explanations of policy differences among the states relied on census-collected indicators of wealth, urbanization, or population characteristics and a handful of “political” variables like interparty competition, legislative professionalism, and the governors’ constitutional powers. Without measures of public opinion, citizen preferences had no systematic place in accounts of the variations in policy among the states. The main finding of Statehouse Democracy is the very strong—indeed dominant—role for public opinion in the overall liberalism-conservatism of state policy.

Our major effort rested on a set of measures derived from pooling CBS News/New York Times polls taken from 1976 to 1988. Most of our work was necessarily restricted to cross-sectional analyses of public opinion and policy in the states. Efforts at longitudinal analysis of those data confronted two problems. First, dividing the state samples into smaller overtime units like years yields small and highly unreliable estimates. Second, there appeared to be little or no temporal variation in state ideology, which is the prime explanatory influence on state policy. Because these

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