Thursday, February 19, 2009

Development and Neglect in State Politics

These articles were written approximately 12 years apart, and provide an indicator of the progress, or lack thereof, made within the field of state politics.
In Jewell’s article, “The Neglected World of State Politics” (1982), he mentioned that there was not enough state research being done. There was no unifying theory. The field lacked data, access to current and relevant data, and comparative studies, according to Jewell. Jewell also stated that there were several weaknesses of the current generation of state scholars, including; lack of relationship between scholars and actual practitioners in the state and the focus on methodological and numerical studies.
Jewell’s article also makes some broad sweeping statements such as “Legislatures have changed even more dramatically, with less turn-over in membership (page 639),” and:

“The levels of party competition have increased in most of the states, and now there is evidence that the outcome of state elections is affected less by traditional party loyalties and more by the abilities of candidates and the skills and resources that they bring to campaigns.” Id.

When I first was reading these statements I couldn’t help but disagree with Jewell from my own perspective in California. The Legislature here turns over more than it did in 1982 because of term limits. In fact, the newest class of Legislators in the Legislature is the group with the least experience in the state Legislature ever. Additionally, party politics has grown in California, with the Democratic and Republican party being the two big elephants in the room. Then I realized that I was at fault for one of the other weaknesses in Jewell’s article – the lack of ability to look outside the state and make comparisons between one state and another, and to form a unifying theory out of those comparisons.
Twelve years later Paul Brace and Aubrey Jewell wrote an article on the state of state political research. Their article also lamented that there was no unifying theory in state political research. They state that the field could benefit from a unifying theory in three ways: 1)integrate the various studies of state politics; 2) reconcile research concerning macro-level outcomes with theories and findings concerning micro-level behavior; and 3) capitalize on the unique comparative and contextual analytical strengths state political research could embody.
This later study noticed that there was more empirical work with sound methodology than there was a year before. Additionally, the same areas that tended to get national attention gained attention in the state political arena. One example of this is elections. In the national arena there is a lot of attention and research done on elections and electoral behavior. During the period of this article, there were also a lot of state level election and electoral behavior studies.
However, Bruce and Jewett argue that these studies, while useful, suffer from a lack of comparison and unification. In this argument, that there is a lack of comparison and unification in state political research, the earlier and later articles are united.
Jewell and Bruce/Jewett are also in agreement on the need for insight into the political life. Jewell argued that one of the strengths of a state political researcher is the knowledge of the subject – the actors – at the state level. Bruce and Jewett also agree, and cite the large number of good papers which stem from the APSA Congressional Fellowship as an example. Jewell states that such knowledge of the actors is necessary, and Bruce and Jewett seem to agree. Bruce and Jewett note that there is not a state internship program where this type of interplay between the actors and scholars is at work.
However, I again direct them to California. There is a California Assembly, Senate, Executive and Judicial fellowship program run by Sacramento State. This fellowship program places Master’s level students into an actual office in one of the three branches of choice. These fellows then interact with the member whose office they work in on a regular basis, and attend lunches with all the members on a regular basis. It would seem that this type of interaction would produce the quality “insider” research that is needed. However, from experience, I can tell you that these fellowships are looked at as ways to get a job in the building rather than do meaningful research. The split between practitioners of state politics and researchers of state politics is emphasized in this situation. The researchers need access to the practitioners, not just the other way around.
For all the differences in these two articles, and for the differences in time between their publications, there are two unifying concepts. The first is that there are not enough comparisons done in the fields of state political research. There are too many individual state researchers, rather than comparative researchers. Secondly, there needs to be some unifying theory or principle that can be learned from these studies. These two articles are remarkably unified on these points.

No comments: