Chapter Summary

Whether you realize it or not, state and local governments affect your life on a daily basis. They provide basic services such as garbage and snow removal, determine the amount of money you pay in property taxes, and set standards for early and secondary education. However, not all states are equal in terms of the amount of resources they have available. Economic indicators, geography, sociodemographics, political history, and political culture all affect how states collect revenues, and thereby affect policy outcomes. In particular, political culture, or citizens’ beliefs about the appropriate role of government, has a direct impact on the organizational structure of states and localities. Such beliefs tend to vary significantly within and between states, however. To systematically explain such variance between states and localities, Chapter 1 introduces the comparative method.

Citizens increasingly trust state and local governments (instead of the federal government) to design and administer public policy programs, and, with an exception during the economic contraction in the late 2000s, the federal government has been granting states more discretionary power through the process of devolution. As such, states have more authority over the level of policy experimentation and policy innovation within the American political system, leading some to refer to the states as “laboratories of democracy.” However, other factors, including the level of organized interest group activity and the rules and composition of the legislature, affect the actual level of policy innovation within a state. To appropriately study such variation requires a methodological tool capable of systematically examining differences between and among similar units. Again, the comparative method provides a useful analytical tool for explaining such differences.