National and state dimensions of major policy change
Tankersley, Holley Elizabeth
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The body of literature investigating why, when, and how major policy changes take place in a federal system of governance is fragmented at best. Some scholars suggest that national policy changes are initiated by partisan realignment and institutional change. Others identify change as a simple matter of top-down intergovernmental implementation. Studies of state politics focus rather narrowly on variation or diffusion of policies among the states. The present study both challenges and combines these prevailing views by determining whether policies can change from the bottom up - with states as the catalyst for changes in both the direction and content of the policy agenda at the national level. The evolution of American federalism dictates the need for scholars to reconcile national policy outcomes with theories and findings concerning state-level policy innovation and diffusion, especially as the states grow in importance and power as a consequence of devolution. If the national government impacts state policymaking, and states influence one another to adopt similar policies, then it would stand to reason that states have a residual impact on national policy. To account for the role of the states in national policy change, this dissertation explores the causal relationship between Ronald Reagan’s policy agenda (1981-1988) and policy adoptions in the states during the Reagan administration. In doing so, this dissertation tests the theoretical possibility that public policy diffuses from the state to the national level, a theory that challenges the traditional depiction of policy diffusion as an exclusively top-down process. Results of event history analyses, along with Granger causal analysis based on both pooled regression models and vector autoregression, indicate that both the relative liberalism of state policy and the extent to which states adopted policy innovations had a significant impact on Reagan’s policy liberalism and policy agenda, while presidential influence on state policy adoptions was virtually nonexistent. These findings suggest that scholars should broaden the scope of studies of national politics to include the potential influence of states in a federal system.
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