Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 6, issue 1

Charles Barrilleaux, "Party Strength, Party Change and Policy-Making in the American States," Party Politics, 6 (January 2000), 61-73.

First Paragraph:
Most research linking party strength and control to party outputs in American state governments shows that Democrats pursue more liberal policies than Republicans (e.g. Dye, 1984; Garand, 1985). An exception to this is reported by Robert Erikson, Gerald Wright and John Mclver (1989, 1993), whose results indicate liberal (i.e. Democratic) party strength in legislatures lessens policy liberalism in the states. Their research suggests that Democrats react to electoral success by enacting policies at odds with voters' preferences..

Figures and Tables:
None.

Last Paragraph:
Parties are central to governance in the states. Erikson et al. (1989) argue that elections are more important than parties. Key (1949), perhaps linking the state of parties to the state of elections, argued that party government in the American South was ineffective due to the absence of meaningful competition. These results present a view more consistent with Key's: Democrats and Republicans differ when they are forced to and act as an important mechanism for translating citizen demand into policy. State policies are influenced directly not only by party strength and political elites' and citizens' ideologies, but by the dynamics of state party politics. As Republicans gather strength, Democrats respond by producing more liberal public policies. This implies that, consistent with longitudinal findings regarding the American states, the USA, and other democratic nations, state political parties are accountable to voters and respond to their demands. Democrats who produce illiberal public policies may simply be more pragmatic than some partisans and observers may prefer. Candidates appeal to partisans for votes, but legislators represent their partisans and the broader constituency.