Policy Feedback as Political Weapon: Conservative Advocacy and the Demobilization of the Public Sector Labor Movement
by Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Columbia University
Scholars have shown that once in place policies can foster greater political participation. Indeed, politicians often deliberately design policies to shore up political support among their allies. But can political actors engineer the reverse effect, crafting policies that demobilize their rivals? Drawing on the example of conservative cross-state advocacy against public sector unions, I describe the strategy of policy feedback as political weapon, or when actors design policies to politically weaken their opponents. I then document that the passage of conservative network-backed legislation led to large and enduring declines in public sector union density and revenue. I further show that by curbing the power of public unions, the passage of conservative network-backed bills dampened the political participation of public sector employees. My findings emphasize the importance of considering how actors use policy to demobilize political opponents and explain why public unions are now on the defensive in state politics.