Explaining Liberal Policy Woes in the States: The Role of Donors

PSC49_03By Alexander Hertel-Fernandez (Harvard University)

State governments have surged to the forefront of national politics in recent years. Faced with partisan gridlock and concerns about the size of the federal deficit, national political leaders have increasingly looked to the states as alternative sites for policy making. Yet, despite the ongoing importance of state politics, liberals and conservatives possess vastly different resources to bring to America’s statehouses. As a result of four decades of aggressive institution building, conservatives can count on a well-developed infrastructure of organizations to promote a coordinated national-policy agenda. Liberals, however, have faltered in similar efforts, establishing only a minimal and fragmented capacity for subnational-policy mobilization. Why is it the case that the Right has enjoyed a strong and increasing capacity for action across the states in recent decades whereas the Left has not? Although there are numerous explanations for this imbalance, one factor—the role of funders—can provide a substantial amount of analytical leverage in explaining the failure of left-wing state networks. This paper describes how the behavior of philanthropic donors can explain the lack of a robust liberal policy infrastructure in the states, and also offers broader insights into the relationship between donors, grantees, political leaders, and—ultimately—policy outcomes.

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PS: Political Science & Politics / Volume 49 / Issue 03 / July 2016, pp 461-465 / Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016