State Political Culture

Some states, such as Alaska, are endowed with natural resources. They can use their oil or natural gas reserves to their advantage to fund education or reduce taxes. Other states, like Florida, are favored with a climate that attracts tourists and retirees each winter, drawing in revenues to support infrastructure improvements throughout the state. These differences can lead to strategic advantages in the economic fortunes of a state, which can translate into differences in the levels of taxes that must be collected from citizens.

But their economic fortunes are only one component of what makes individual states unique. Theorists have long proposed that states are also unique as a function of their differing political cultures, or their attitudes and beliefs about the functions and expectations of the government. In the book, American Federalism: A View from the States, Daniel Elazar first theorized in 1966 that the United States could be divided into three distinct political cultures: moralistic, individualistic, and traditionalistic (Figure). The diffusion of these cultures throughout the United States is attributed to the migratory patterns of immigrants who settled in and spread out across the country from the east to the west coast. These settlers had distinct political and religious values that influenced their beliefs about the proper role of government, the need for citizen involvement in the democratic process, and the role of political parties.

A map of the United States titled “Elazar’s Cultural Classification by State”. States marked as “Individualistic” are Nevada, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, DC, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Alaska, and Hawaii. States marked as “Moralistic” are California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. States marked as “Traditionalistic” are Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Daniel Elazar posited that the United States can be divided geographically into three types of political cultures—individualistic, moralistic, and traditionalistic—which spread with the migratory patterns of immigrants across the country.
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