POLS 101I – American National Government
State and Local Politics: Maintaining Our Differences
Having read the chapter, the students should be able to do each of the following:
Identify the various regional subcultures, and discuss their influence on regional politics.
Examine how the various states apply the principle of separation of powers, and identify some of the
differences in the way in which they structure their governments.
Describe the four forms of municipal government.
Discuss the influence of political and economic constraints or advantages on state and local government
Focus and Main Points
The purpose of this chapter is to describe the nature of American federalism in a more comprehensive manner.
The author summarizes the general patterns which characterize state and local governments, and concludes
with a comparison of the states which illustrates major factors behind differences in their politics and policies.
The main points of the discussion are as follows:
All states apply the constitutional principle of separation of powers, but the states otherwise differ
from one another, and even from the federal government, in the way in which they structure their
governments. The use of elections as a means of choosing officials of all types, including judges and
lesser executives, is fairly widespread.
Local governments are not sovereign; they are chartered by their state government, which sets limits
on their power. Of the units of local government (county, municipality, school district, and special
district), the basic unit is the municipality. A municipality may be governed in one of four ways—the
strong mayor-council, weak mayor-council, commission, or city manager system.
States and localities have primary responsibility for most of the policies, such as public education, that
directly touch Americans’ daily lives. The nature of these policies is affected by the wealth of the state
and the locality, and also by its political culture, political party system, and interest group system.
Although developments in the twentieth century have narrowed the differences among the American
states, they remain distinctive and vital systems of government. The states differ in political subcultures:
moralistic (northern tier states such as Minnesota); individualistic (middle of the United States such as
Illinois); and traditionalistic (the old Confederacy such as South Carolina).
All states apply the constitutional principle of separate branches sharing power, but the structure and