Article written by 2013 DPDF Public Finance and Society: The New Historical Fiscal Sociology Fellow Michael Vasseur:
Actors at the state level in the United States are attentive to the actions of others in their broader political context when enacting policies. For all that is known about the diffusion of policies in a political context, less is understood about why some states ultimately end up with policies that are similar in structure, but vastly different in content. Do the forces that drive states to policy action also shape the content of the enacted policies? Examining the case of renewable energy policy among US states over a fourteen-year period, this paper addresses this question using event history analysis and an original longitudinal data set of state political and economic characteristics. State’s energy economy, the presence of Democratic politicians, and environmental movement organizations are found to be important for determining the kind of policy a state ultimately enacts, while regional policy adoption explains why some states choose to enact largely symbolic renewable energy policies. Policy adoption should be conceptualized as a multifaceted process, with different factors acting as the impetus for action and others shaping the content of the policy. Understanding the nuanced roles of state characteristics and policy diffusion in the policy adoption process requires avoiding binary outcomes of passage or inaction in favor of simultaneously examining both policy action and policy content.