Salience, Complexity, and State Resistance to Federal Mandates

October 29, 2015

Steven J. Balla
Christopher J. Deering

Download this Article (Journal of Public Policy)


Although state resistance to federal mandates is a prevalent characteristic of contemporary American federalism, little is known about the factors that separate resisting states from states that do not oppose federal policy. This article examines state resistance through a framework that classifies public policies by salience and complexity and identifies societal interests and government officials who are hypothesized to influence policy making on issues of varying types. These hypotheses are investigated in the context of state resistance to four federal laws – the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, No Child Left Behind Act, Help America Vote Act and REAL ID Act. The results of the statistical analysis demonstrate the centrality of the characteristics of citizens, elected officials and specialized interest groups in conditioning state resistance to federal mandates. These results suggest that state resistance can be characterized as a strategic response to federal mandates that varies systematically across types of public policies.