Since 1990, state legislatures have been increasingly dominated by the Republican party. In 1990, six states had both chambers of Congress controlled by the Republican party, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This number increased to 18 in 2000 and 26 in 2014. Considering this significant partisan shift, it's interesting to see the impact of this trend and how it has affected state policy changes. IPPSR has spent the last few months working to research this impact.
One way to discover this impact is by evaluating literature written about state policymaking since 1990. The benefit of using literature instead of using government databases to study the policy changes is that authors will reveal social and political factors that influenced the policy change in addition to the information about the proposal itself.
When choosing literature to evaluate, both textbooks and tradebooks were used if relevant to the time frame. These books were written by professors, journalists, and politicians about policymaking specific to individual states. Any mention of a policy proposal was recorded in a dataset, compiling statistics about the year in which it was proposed and the issue it covered. Additional information about potential influences on why the policy was proposed and the outcome of the policy.
While literature concerning all 50 states should be evaluated, IPPSR has so far only collected data about 11 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin. From these states, IPPSR has collected data about the type of policy proposed and the influential social and political factors.
Out of all the 38 policy changes analyzed so far, 17 were influenced by pressure from interest groups. The second most influential factor was public opinion, which influenced 11 policy changes. These factors were not always mutually exclusive; many policy changes were influenced by multiple factors. The most popular factors so far have been: a campaign issue or promise, federal pressure, media coverage, pressure from interest groups, public opinion, support or opposition from a prominent politician (like a governor), and a mandate from a Supreme Court ruling.
The data also demonstrates that policy changes are most often about education reform. Fourteen policies addressed education reform while the next most popular policy addressed – healthcare – was only seen in six policy changes in the literature.
These preliminary results reveal potentially interesting information about the impact of the power shift towards the Republican party in state legislatures. Continued research at IPPSR will help highlight how policy changes have been influenced by the increase in Republican party control.
Emily Jenkins is an undergraduate policy fellow at the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. She presented this research at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum, where she won first place in her category.