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Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Discuss the advantages of federalism
  • Explain the disadvantages of federalism

The federal design of our Constitution has had a profound effect on U.S. politics. Several positive and negative attributes of federalism have manifested themselves in the U.S. political system.

The benefits of federalism

Among the merits of federalism are that it promotes policy innovation and political participation and accommodates diversity of opinion. On the subject of policy innovation, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis observed in 1932 that “a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann , 285 U.S. 262 (1932).
What Brandeis meant was that states could harness their constitutional authority to engage in policy innovations that might eventually be diffused to other states and at the national level. For example, a number of New Deal breakthroughs, such as child labor laws, were inspired by state policies. Prior to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment , several states had already granted women the right to vote. California has led the way in establishing standards for fuel emissions and other environmental policies ( [link] ). Recently, the health insurance exchanges run by Connecticut, Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Washington have served as models for other states seeking to improve the performance of their exchanges.
Christine Vestal and Michael Ollove, “Why some state-run health exchanges worked,” USA Today , 10 December 2013.

Image A shows the Golden Gate bridge with a moderate amount of traffic. Image B shows a sticker on a car that states “Access OK California clean air vehicle”. The sticker has the California state seal.
The California Air Resources Board was established in 1967, before passage of the federal Clean Air Act. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has adopted California emissions standards nationally, starting with the 2016 model year, and is working with California regulators to establish stricter national emissions standards going forward.(credit a: modification of work by Antti T. Nissinen; credit b: modification of work by Marcin Wichary)

Another advantage of federalism is that because our federal system creates two levels of government with the capacity to take action, failure to attain a desired policy goal at one level can be offset by successfully securing the support of elected representatives at another level. Thus, individuals, groups, and social movements are encouraged to actively participate and help shape public policy.

Federalism and political office

Thinking of running for elected office? Well, you have several options. As [link] shows, there are a total of 510,682 elected offices at the federal, state, and local levels. Elected representatives in municipal and township governments account for a little more than half the total number of elected officials in the United States. Political careers rarely start at the national level. In fact, a very small share of politicians at the subnational level transition to the national stage as representatives, senators, vice presidents, or presidents.

This table lists the number of elected bodies and elected officials at the federal, state, and local levels.
Jennifer Lawless. 2012. Becoming a Candidate . New York: Cambridge University Press.
Elected Officials at the Federal, State, and Local Levels
Number of Elective Bodies Number of Elected Officials
Federal Government 1
Executive branch 2
U.S. Senate 100
U.S. House of Representatives 435
State Government 50
State legislatures 7,382
Statewide offices 1,036
State boards 1,331
Local Government
County governments 3,034 58,818
Municipal governments 19,429 135,531
Town governments 16,504 126,958
School districts 13,506 95,000
Special districts 35,052 84,089
Total 87,576 510,682

If you are interested in serving the public as an elected official, there are more opportunities to do so at the local and state levels than at the national level. As an added incentive for setting your sights at the subnational stage, consider the following. Whereas only 28 percent of U.S. adults trusted Congress in 2014, about 62 percent trusted their state governments and 72 percent had confidence in their local governments.

Justin McCarthy. 2014. “Americans Still Trust Local Government More Than State,” September 22. http://www.gallup.com/poll/176846/americans-trust-local-government-state.aspx (June 24, 2015).

If you ran for public office, what problems would you most want to solve? What level of government would best enable you to solve them, and why?

Questions & Answers

to this textbook which countries have the highest rates of execution?
michael Reply
What are the advantages and disadvantages of having so many levels of subnational governments in the United States? Explain
Nicole Reply
to help in protecting the right of the citizens, in safety purpose also if not many tribulation war and conflict in between the Nations and perhaps the citizens that is we really needs them.
Emmanuel
What are the advantages
maureen
what were the initial issues that led to the introduction of legislation
Benedicta Reply
Do the consideration and bill of rights protect the life and liberty of all Americans?
Benedicta
yes
Emmanuel
how do we answer government questions
Comfort Reply
by following all the due processes
Emmanuel
how many types of pre_ colonial political system do we have in Nigeria
Israel Reply
3
nkama
we 3 which are yoruba,hausa, Igbo
Israel
3
Ibrahim
opening day in the house. what is the speaker's first duty
Gabriel Reply
what is bill of right?
Dyutoe Reply
first 10 amendments to the Constitution
Ruthie
a bill of right in the United States,bill of right is the first tan amendment to the Constitution.
Israel
what prevented the equal rights Amendment from being ratified?
Darhel Reply
why some countries adopts written constitution
Paschal Reply
because it is documented
Comfort
what part of our government is based on parliament
SonIa Reply
what important political idea came from Thomas Hobbes
SonIa
Thomas Hobbes who is he
SonIa
what is democracy
Haliru Reply
government of the people by the people and for the people
Emmanuel
what is Constitution
Joy Reply
What's separation of power in government?
Fortune Reply
What's political parties?
Fortune
What's Political apathy
Fortune
political parties can be defined as a group of people who share a common interest
Waris
political apathy it can be defined by act of not having Interest in any politics
Waris
political parties are organised group of citizens,acting as a political unit and through the use of their voting power trys to control the government.
Jasper
what are the broad purposes of government
Slande Reply
what is constition
Diana Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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