National scholars convene to examine methods, trends in subnational policymaking research

June 18, 2018

“The study of state and local politics has taken off over the last decade. Data, methods and research interests have evolved. There are a variety of important questions that can’t be examined well at the federal level, because of severe case limitations.  But scholars can get leverage on these questions thanks to the sizable and interesting variation that exists at the state and local levels,” said USC Price School of Public Policy Professor Jeffery Jenkins, as he brought together scholars from across the U.S. to examine the study of subnational policymaking.

“Studying Subnational Policy Making” is the third USC symposium organized by Jenkins, who serves as director of the USC Bedrosian Center on Governance and the USC Political Institutions & Political Economy (PIPE) Collaborative.

The symposium, held on June 5, as Californians were voting in the primary election, focused on examining important aspects of the study of American policymaking below the national level.

Papers presented were conceptual, and laid out the opportunities and challenges that a subnational perspective holds for the research endeavor. Authors covered important substantive and theoretical topics including representation, executive politics, interest groups and delegation, as well as methodologies for studying important topics like policy responsiveness.

Pam McCann

Individual Paper Presentations

  • “Varieties of Congressional Delegation in American Federalism,” by Pam Clouser McCann (USC)
  • “The Study of Executive Policymaking in the U.S. States,” by Sharece Thrower (Vanderbilt)
  • “The Paradox of Subnational Representation,” by Chris Tausanovitch (UCLA)
  • “Looking for Influence in all the Wrong Places,” by Sarah Anzia (UC Berkeley)
  • “Field Experiments at the Subnational Level,” by Dan Butler (UCSD)
  • “Subnational Public Opinion,” by Chris Warshaw (George Washington University)

PIPE dialogue

Symposium Takeaways

Several key takeaways from the presentations and ensuing dialogue included:

  • While there is much work to do in terms of data collection, collaboration and technological advances have made more data available at the subnational level than ever before.
  • Representation and accountability will be addressed more readily — and creatively — through study at the subnational level.
  • The field in general, as well as editors of the major peer review journals, will need to formulate positive processes on the use of field experiments.
  • Federal level theories can be tested using state-level data, enhancing findings through replication. But new subnational theories may also need to be developed.

In closing, Jenkins noted how the ability to draw faculty together for an in-depth conversation on future trends for research will have invaluable impact of the study of political institutions and policy making.