The Volk of New Jersey? State Identity, Distinctiveness, and Political Culture in the American Federal System
126 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2015
Date Written: February 24, 2015
The legal literature on federalism has long taken for granted that Americans no longer meaningfully identify with, or feel strong loyalties to, their states. This assumption has led some scholars to reject federalism altogether; others argue that federalism must be reoriented to serve national values. But the issue of identity and loyalty sweeps far more broadly, implicating debates about the political safeguards of federalism, the ability of states to check national power, and the likelihood that states will produce policy innovations or good opportunities for citizen participation in government. The ultimate question is whether American federalism lacks the cultural and psychological support to sustain itself.
This article is the first comprehensive effort to assess whether contemporary American states are meaningfully distinctive from one another and whether contemporary Americans identify with their states. The death of state identity is an empirical claim, but no proponent of that claim has ever marshalled empirical evidence to support it. It is also a claim unique to legal scholarship: Scholars in political science, history, economics, cultural psychology, and other disciplines have developed extensive literatures on state political cultures. This article surveys those literatures and collects evidence on the states’ geographic, demographic, and policy diversity, states’ impact on political preferences, relative trust in state and federal institutions, state’s distinct historical narratives, and the impact of individual mobility among the states. I conclude that reports of the death of state identity are greatly exaggerated — and that has important implications for American federalism.
Keywords: federalism, identity, political culture
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