A racial/ethnic diversity interpretation of politics and policy in the states of the U.S.

Rodney E. Hero, Caroline J. Tolbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

235 Scopus citations


Theory: This paper examines a new interpretation of politics in the states of the U.S. - that racial and ethnic diversity, and the levels and types of this diversity, are central to understanding politics and policy in the states. We conceptualize and statistically model states in terms of their homogeneous, heterogeneous, or bifurcated racial/ethnic composition. Hypothesis: Racial/ethnic diversity provides a theoretical and empirical explanation for policy variations in the states. Methods: Data are used to develop two measures of racial/ethnic diversity: an index of minority diversity and white ethnic diversity. These indices are compared with "political culture" categories using descriptive and inferential statistics. Using regression analysis, the measures of racial/ethnic diversity are examined relative to several state policies. Results: Racial/ethnic diversity explains much of the variation in the grouping of state political cultures. Increased minority diversity (bifurcation) is associated with lower overall education and social policy outcomes. But when the policies are disaggregated by race, we find that policies for minorities are especially poor in homogeneous states. The unique contribution of the diversity interpretation is that it can account for policy variation in the aggregate, as well as with respect to specific policies as they affect minorities. Previous research concerning race and public policy addresses the former (aggregate) outcomes, but does not anticipate nor explain the latter, especially the dynamics of race/ethnicity in homogeneous contexts. Also, different types of "political pluralism" - consensual, competitive, and hierarchical - are associated with varying levels of racial/ethnic diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)851-871
Number of pages21
JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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