Party Competition and Policy Liberalism

With Zach Baumann and Michael Nelson. Forthcoming in State Politics & Policy Quarterly. Paper.

Party competition is a foundational concept in the study of state politics, relating to outcomes as varied as policy choices, policy congruence, political participation, and the quality of representation. Scholars have long argued that increased levels of party competition are associated with more liberal policymaking. By this logic, parties in close competition with one another try to expand their bases of support by catering to the desires of those who tend to abstain from the political process — the “have-nots.” We extend this classic hypothesis by examining the relationship between competition and policy liberalism over several decades, articulating and testing a theory that suggests that party competition relates differently to social and economic policy liberalism. We find robust evidence that increased competition has a positive relationship with economic policy liberalism, weaker evidence for a negative relationship between competition and social policy liberalism, and suggestive evidence that the direction and magnitudes of these relationships have changed over time.