Setting the terms of relief: Explaining state policy choices in the devolution revolution

Joe Soss, Sanford F. Schram, Thomas P. Vartanian, Erin O'Brien

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    367 Scopus citations


    The landmark welfare legislation of 1996 offers students of politics a unique opportunity to pinpoint the determinants of state-level policy choices - a case in which the fifty states responded virtually simultaneously to a single policy mandate. Taking advantage of this opportunity, we investigate the factors that led states to make restrictive policy choices after 1996 and use this analysis to evaluate general theories of welfare politics. Specifically, we test six types of explanations for why some states responded by adopting "get-tough" program rules: theories that identify welfare policy as a site of ideological conflict, as an outcome of electoral politics, as a domain of policy innovation, as an instrument of social control, as an outlet for racial resentments, and as an expression of moral values. The results of our ordered and binary logit models suggest that state policies have been shaped by a variety of social and political forces, but especially by the racial composition of families who rely on program benefits.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)378-395
    Number of pages18
    JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Apr 2001


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