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Does activism matter? The case of environmental policy in the US states

Suchandra Basu (Department of Economics and Finance, Rhode Island College, Providence, Rhode Island, USA)
Nirupama Devaraj (Department of Economics, Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana, USA)

International Journal of Social Economics

ISSN: 0306-8293

Article publication date: 7 October 2014




The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of activism in determining the identity of the “green” median voter and the influence of the green voter on environmental regulatory stringency in the US states.


Regulatory stringency is measured using output weighted abatement spending and an industry concentration adjusted index of state environmental compliance costs for the period 1989-1994. Activism measures include environmental initiatives, median support for pollution standards and voter ideology. Fixed-effects panel methodology is used in empirical estimation.


The authors find that activism increases stringency in regulating overall as well as media-specific pollution. The results particularly highlight the nuances of different approaches to activism and their varied impact across pollution media.

Research limitations/implications

A drawback of the empirical estimation is the lack of continuous historical abatement spending data. A longer panel with alternative stringency measure(s) would add explanatory power to activism, especially since some activism measures capture slow-changing institutional factors.

Social implications

The study identifies the conditions under which activism can have the most impact on a society's environmental outcomes since pollution varies in damages, hence abatement costs, across pollution media.


The paper adds to the existing literature by incorporating three alternative measures of environmental activism to systematically investigate its impact on environmental stringency within a fixed-effects regression design. It also promotes a deeper understanding of the efficacy of the activism process by deconstructing policy stringency across pollution media to show that activism and its impacts are more nuanced than previously studied.



The authors gratefully acknowledge the grant support received from Rhode Island College and CELT and the Department of Economics at Valparaiso University for this research. The authors also thank Vera Brusenteva, Wayne Gray, Per Fredrikkson, Martin Bunicki and participants at the 77th Southern Economic Association Conference for helpful comments. All remaining errors and omissions are the authors. Data sources, index calculation, other methodology and omitted results are available upon request.


Basu, S. and Devaraj, N. (2014), "Does activism matter? The case of environmental policy in the US states", International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 41 No. 10, pp. 923-943.



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