When Tokens Matter



    1. Rutgers University
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    • Jocelyn Elise Crowley is Assistant Professor of Public Policy, The Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers–The State University of New Jersey, 33 Livingston Avenue, Suite 202, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901–1980.


Tokens, or low levels of minority or female representatives in state legislatures, have been studied with respect to their perceptions of self-efficacy and political attitudes but not with respect to their actual influence on the passage of public policy. This paper uses state-level data from the child support program between the years 1976–84 to measure the influence of women tokens on the policy process. Using ordered probit models, I explore policy adoption under three configurations: (1) a test of the independent impact of tokens, (2) a dynamic test of the differential impact of tokens and nontokens to analyze potential backlash effects and the potential diffusion of policy preferences, and (3) an interactive test on the potential for tokens to form coalitions. My analysis strongly suggests that tokens make a policy difference independently and to a greater extent than when they are on the cusp of becoming nontokens, but I found less support for the idea that tokens successfully form coalitions to achieve specific policy goals.