A reassessment of the general systems approach in the study of the determinants of public policy in the American states: A study of why some states have more liberal policies than others

Date of Completion

January 1997


Political Science, General|Sociology, Public and Social Welfare




This study investigates why some states have more liberal policies than others. It theorizes that the institutional arrangements within a state will influence the public policies of that state. To test this theory, a model was developed within the general systems framework of David Easton. This approach examines the research question from the perspective of competing paradigms: Environmental and Political. The environmental model is operationalized using measures of culture, ideology, and socioeconomic development. The inputs and process are conceptualized as the political system, creating two subsystems. The first subsystem, aggregates and articulates the demands of the people and is operationalized in measures of voter participation, interparty competition, interest group strength, and restrictive voting practices. This subsystem expresses inputs to the process component, the second subsystem, operationalized in a measure of government capability.^ The analyses showed that the environmental component of the model and the political system component are both needed to explain public policy choices in American states. Furthermore, both components of the political system are relevant. According to V.O. Key, in the long run, the have-nots lose in disorganized politics. This research tends to confirm his argument. The model tested found that states with competitive political parties tend to produce more liberal policies than one-party states. It was also found that states with restrictive voting practices tend to have more conservative policies. Distinct from the demand system, the process has an independent influence on the polices that a state chooses. This research found that the states with high levels of government capability tended to have more liberal policies than states with low levels of capability. ^