Why do some states have affirmative action policies while others do not? Much of the literature that examines this question is normative in nature or focuses on one state or a small number of states. Much of the literature that does examine affirmative action treats it as an independent variable that authors use to explain the impact that such policies do (or do not) have on social change in societies that have had histories of legal or societal discrimination. There is a surprisingly small amount of work that examines country level factors that make affirmative action policies more likely in some countries than others.

In a paper that we published at the Journal of Public Policy, we examined this question using data from the Minorities at Risk database created by Ted Gurr. We use these data to examine the time period 1985-2003 to identify what factors make it more or less likely that a state will institute affirmative action policies. One example of such policies are those put in place by the Indian Government through Article 46 of the Indian Constitution that came into force in 1950 and introduced provisions favoring historically underrepresented groups within Indian society. Specifically, the Article states: “The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.”

To examine this question we looked at a number of state level factors drawn from the Quality of Government Database. In the analysis we look at the impact of democracy, modernization and globalization on affirmative action policies for specific groups. We analyzed separately politically oriented affirmative action policies, economically oriented affirmative action policies, and both policies combined. We focus on the policy feedback literature and compensatory justice frameworks to examine those effects on affirmative action programs.

While there are some differences in the results depending on the type of regression analysis we used, generally, we found that the democratic conditions of a state had a positive and significant impact on general affirmative action policies and politically oriented affirmative action policies, but not on economically oriented affirmative action policies when analyzed separately. Modernization and GDP per capita had positive effects on the likelihood of adoption across the board, as did a history of violence against the groups in the country. The nature of the group itself also had an impact on the likelihood of affirmative action, with groups that were transferred from other states being less likely to benefit from affirmative action policies.

While we believe this is an important first step in the analysis of the causes of affirmative action policies, there is still much to be done and we are working to consider other ways to examine this question using different approaches and different sets of data.

– Udi Sommer, Columbia University and Tel Aviv University and Victor Asal, University at Albany: SUNY.

This article is based upon Sommer and Asal’s JPP article ‘Political and legal antecedents of affirmative action: a comparative framework‘ which is available free of charge until the end of August 2018.

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