The consequences of federalism

Legal consequences. There is tremendous variety in state laws on such matters as the age at which people can marry, or can drive a car, or have to attend school. Laws vary on drugs and whether the death penalty is used. There are both federal and state courts. Case study Marijuana

■ Policy consequences. The states can act as policy laboratories, experimenting with new solutions to old problems. Of late we have seen this in such areas as healthcare provision, immigration reform, affirmative action programmes and environmental policies. Healthcare reform in Massachusetts and immigration reform in Arizona have both received considerable national attention, though much of the latter was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2012.

Consequences for elections. All elections in the United States are state-based and run under state law. Even the presidential election is really 50 separate state-based elections with the outcome decided by a state-based Electoral College. Each state decides such matters as: how candidates will be chosen for elections in their state; the procedures for getting a candidate’s name on the ballot paper; what mechanisms are used in polling stations — punch cards or touch-screen computers. Arizona has experimented with on-line voting while both Washington State and Oregon have moved to an entirely postal ballot.

Consequences for political parties. How many parties ate there in the USA? Two? or 100?-It is important to realise that political parties in America are essentially de centralised, state-based parties. Texas Democrats are more conservative than Massachusetts Democrats; Vermont Republicans more liberal than South Carolina Republicans. One can see the effects of federalism in the United States Congress with its state-based representation. The consequences of federalism were highlighted in the 2016 presidential nomination contest when Republicans in Colorado, North Dakota and Wyoming decided not to hold either a primary or a caucus, but to choose their national convention delegates through a state party convention, much to Donald Trump’s chagrin. There was nothing the national Republican Party could do about it.

Economic consequences. These are seen not only in the huge federal grants going to the states, but also in the complexity of the tax system in America. Income tax is levied by both the federal government and some state governments, different property taxes are levied by the state governments, and sales taxes vary between cities.

■ Regionalism. The regions of the South, the Midwest, the Northeast and the West have distinct cultures and accents, as well as racial, religious and ideological differences. There is a distinct difference between the conservatism of the Deep South and the liberalism of the Northeast. What plays well in ‘the Bible Belt’ may not be popular in ‘New England’.