Explaining Policy Differences Using Political Culture
Political scientist Daniel Elazar identified political
culture as one reason that different states enact different policies to
deal with similar problems. In fact, he identifies three political
subcultures which combine to form the American political culture which
he differentiates from the German political culture, the French political
culture, or the Mexican political culture. These political subcultures
The individualistic subculture relies on the marketplace.
Government's role is limited, primarily to keep the marketplace functioning.
Politicians' motives for running for office are based on material self-interests
and to advance themselves professionally.
Bureaucracy is viewed negatively because it hinders patronage.
Corruption is tolerated because politics IS dirty.
Political competition is partisan.
Elections are oriented toward gaining office and do not deal with issues.
View originated in Middle Atlantic states, settled by German and English
Migrated to lower Midwest, Missouri, and western states.
"Government should never get in the way!"
Opposite of individualistic.
Emphasizes the commonwealth.
Government advances the public interest and is a positive force in the
lives of citizens.
Politics revolves around issues.
Politicians run for office to advance issues.
Corruption is not tolerated because government service is seen as public
Bureaucracy is viewed favorably as a way to achieve the public good.
It is a citizen's duty to participate in politics.
View was brought to the United States by the Puritans who settled in New
Transported across the upper Great Lakes into the Midwest to the Northwest.
Values reinforced by waves of Scandinavian and northern European groups.
Middle ground between individualistic and moralistic.
Ambivalent attitude toward the marketplace and the common good.
Government is maintain the existing social and economic hierarchy.
Politicians come from society's elite.
Politicians have a family obligation to govern.
Ordinary citizens are not expected to participate in politics or even to
Politics is competition between rival factions within the elite rather
than between class-based parties.
Bureaucracy is viewed with suspicion because it interferes with personal
View was brought to the United States by people who settled the southern
Built a plantation-centered agricultural system.
Descendants moved westward through the southern and southwestern states.
According to Elazar, Texas's political culture is
a combination of traditionalistic and individualistic elements. The
traditionalistic aspects of state politics are exemplified by the long
history of one-party dominance in state politics, the low level of voter
turnout, and social and economic conservatism. The individualistic
nature of state politics can be seen in the support for private business,
opposition to big government, and faith in individual initiative.
Is Change Possible?
These subcultures were derived from analyzing settlement
and migration patterns that were largely completed by the early 20th Century.
Is it possible for migrations that occurred after the 1950s to have affected
the political subculture of the states? For example, what has been
the impact of large numbers of northern retirees moving to a traditionalistic
state like Florida? Has the influx of northerners affected Texas
politics or do the new immigrants adapt to the old political subculture?
We could better understand the impact of population growth on political
culture by studying the politics of a area like Amarillo or specifically
This discussion is drawn from the following sources:
Gray, Virginia. 1999. "The Socioeconomic and Political
Context of States." In Politics in the American States: A Comparative
Analysis, 7th ed., Virginia Gray, Russell L. Hanson, and Herbert Jacob,
eds. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
Tannahill, Neal. 2000. Texas Government: Policy
and Politics, 6th ed. New York: Longman.
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