Building a Conservative State: Partisan Polarization and the Redeployment of Administrative Power (with Desmond King and Sidney Milkis)
Any attempt to understand America’s political malaise must first make sense of the structure that contains those contests for political power. Scholars have offered a number of descriptive theories to elucidate to complex texture of political power in 2018: there is a “policy state,” a “submerged state,” a state of perpetual “gridlock,” and a state defined by presidential overreach and aggrandizement. What ties these various modes of governance, and amorphously-named “states,” together? Crucial to understanding the contest for political power is a re-evaluation of that State’s substance – a State featuring a deepening conflict between liberals and conservatives over what purposes the “State” should serve. In the final analysis, we offer a new framework, one that sheds light on the ascent of Donald Trump, but does not treat him as a novel or ephemeral phenomenon. We argue that partisanship in the United States is no longer a struggle over the size of the State; rather it has been struggle for the services of national administrative power. Despite rhetorical appeals to “limited government,” since the late 1960s, conservatives have sought national administrative power just as aggressively as liberals. Although Trump has disrupted many norms and institutions that buttressed American government in the past, he has tapped into the conservative embrace of state power several decades in the making. The bipartisan legitimacy bestowed on national administrative power has its roots in the creation of the New Deal state in the 1930s under Franklin Roosevelt and during the Cold War. Paradoxically, as the State grew more encompassing, debates over its fundamental legitimacy waned. Instead, since the 1960s, conservative administrations who inherited the New Deal state have sought to redeploy rather than dismantle or roll back state power. Through “redeployment,” conservative presidents have sustained previous levels of State spending or State activity, but in a way reflecting a new administration’s ideology. Rather than emphasizing retrenchment as the principal objective of the conservative movement or the Republican Party, we urge attention to how Republican administrations seek to exploit national administrative power for conservative ends. Even under the iconoclastic leadership of President Trump, his presidency marks the culmination of long standing developments in the battle between liberals and conservatives to command national administrative power.
Prior research shows that social identities defined by an attachment to place (i.e., “place-based” identities) are influential in shaping how citizens understand and think about political topics. Moreover, prior research has also argued that candidates sometimes utilize “place-based appeals” in order to win support among the electorate, and that such appeals are seemingly widespread. While past research has provided a rich understanding of what place-based identity and place-based appeals are, there is a large gap in what we know about the causal effects of such appeals. In this study, we address this gap by testing experimentally the effects of place-based appeals on voters’ evaluation of candidate likeability and ability to understand their constituents, across the broader American patchwork. Using a set of modiﬁed campaign mailer advertisements, we alter whether respondents see an ad that uses rural or urban imagery when introducing a candidate. We then test for the effectiveness of place-based appeals by measuring how respondents from self-reported rural and urban areas evaluate the candidate across the three conditions. Our results indicate that, consistent with existing theory, place-based appeals are impactful in shaping political evaluations among rural voters, but do not appear as relevant for urban voters. Overall, we argue that place–or symbolically charged geographical sites–is a useful, widespread, and potentially powerful political heuristic.
The Political Dynamics of “Creative Federalism”: President Johnson, the Mayors, and the Development of Federal-Local Urban Policy in the 1960s
Metropolitan and regional planning were essential policy initiatives of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. While a subset of federal policy, these programs differed from their Great Society counterparts because they focused on administrative reorganization, they combined parts of other programs into one, and the initiative for their passage was located outside the traditional halls of federal power, all the way down in City Hall. Drawing on a wide range of archival evidence from the Johnson Presidential Library, I trace the political dynamics of how Johnson and metropolitan mayors responded to the political crisis insinuating the Community Action Program (CAPs), and the revision of CAPs into the administration’s Model Cities initiative: policy, or political, “failure” as perceived by the mayors dictated the terms of subsequent federal policymaking. These two policy programs constituted the administration’s push for the development of a “creative federalism.” In the process, they helped to establish administrative structures of cooperation and contestation over policy development and implementation that subsequent presidents would also rely on. The history of these two developments offer important lessons in the origins of “executive-centered federalism,” the nature of mayoral power in the planning and enactment of major federal programs, and the development of a distinct federal-local relationship in the mid-20th Century. Executive authority and enhanced state capacity led to greater economizing and more expert-driven reform, while beneficiaries of such policies grew more disillusioned with federal-local efforts. Those offering a qualified defense of contemporary “executive-centered federalism” must recognize that barriers to its full-on arrival grew from widespread discontentment over its first appearance.
Industrial Restructuring, Automation, and the Democratic Party Response, 1946-1963
The economic prosperity of the 1950s and early 1960s failed to reach many parts of the United States. Natural resource depletion, technological automation, and intra-national economic restructuring left thousands of communities wracked by unemployment and a diminished tax base for public investment. With the 1961 Area Redevelopment Act and the 1962 Manpower Development and Training Act, the federal government sought to ease the burden on state and local government for their economic hardship. These two landmark laws were not mere extensions of previous federal programs. Rather, they were deliberate attempts to not do what the federal government did before. They represent an under appreciated form of policy “feedback” – the creation of new policy initiatives in response to successful policies deemed politically toxic. This paper offers a complementary framework emphasizing how and why the political calculus of political elites often close off certain routes of policy change, even if those alternatives were programmatically successful. Tracing the policy history of two programs, I describe the political debate that led the federal government to emphasize regionalized public investment and job retraining for unemployed workers. It perhaps seems pre-ordained that the federal government would grow in the mid-20th Century to take on these programmatic obligations, but this overlooks important policy alternatives that were widespread in the previous two decades. Targeted resettlement and worker relocation were experimental projects administered during the New Deal and during World War II. Contemporaneous policy analysis suggested that these types of federal-state programs were viable options for ameliorating the economic restructuring of the post-war economy. Instead, the federal government chose a different route. Whether or not it was the more efficacious route is beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, I emphasize why the federal government ventured into these two largely new areas of economic activity. Ironically, I argue, the federal government grew at the behest of state and local political elites. These sub-national political pressures developed into a form of federated “rent-seeking,” as mayors and governors used their partisan leverage to encourage larger federal investment in regions and individuals.
In analyzing the emergence of these path-breaking programs, this paper takes seriously how federalism shaped the government’s role in establishing what would constitute the core of economic redevelopment for the next 40 years. In doing so, I suggest that narratives emphasizing national preemption of state and local activity – while not entirely inaccurate – nevertheless fall short in considering the ways in which states and localities enabled the growth of national administration. Constitutional theorists often consider federalism to be an important structure for capturing public discontent, for building political consensus, and for creating more flexible polices. The politics – and the counterfactuals exposed by such politics – suggest that federalism can also elevate the voices of the politically entrenched, stifle viable alternatives, and establish new, vested interests.
Geographic Polarization: Measuring Partisan Concentration and Stratification in the U.S. since 1840
Despite widespread media coverage and debate within academic political science there exists little consensus over whether the United States in segregated along political lines. Part of reason is that traditional measures used to capture electoral competitiveness fail to capture year-to-year changes in historical context. Using election results from 1840-2016, this article introduces a new measure for understanding geographic polarization of partisans. Analogous to how scholars understand racial and economic segregation of school systems, I argue that we should similarly construct “exposure indices” to trace the concentration and stratification of Democrats and Republicans across the United States. This measure has a wide variety of practical uses in measuring geographic polarization, although I use the U.S. Presidential Election results to illustrate its utility. In the final analysis, there is strong evidence to support the idea that voters in 2016 were more geographically concentrated than in any other modern presidential election. Counties structure a variety of economic and social processes that feed into how the two parties compete for voters; increasingly geographic stratification, far from diminishing in importance in the modern, globalized era, is defining the content and conduct of contemporary politics. I conclude by offering a series of descriptive regression analyses that show what socio-economic factors are most associated with inter-partisan exposure across the last 180 years.