Skip to main content

How Institutions and Social Identity Affect Policy Change: The Case of College Sports (WP-19-22)

James Druckman and Elizabeth Sharrow

A defining feature of American democracy is its pluralism that purportedly protects against a tyranny of the majority. That pluralism can prove deleterious, however, when it inhibits the formation of coalitions needed for policy innovation. What institutions inhibit or facilitate the formation of policy coalitions? Druckman and Sharrow address this question by focusing on a novel domain: American college sports. Using data from two large-scale surveys, they show that policy debates in college sports revolve around questions of gender and race. They further demonstrate how the segregated nature of college sports–both in terms of sex and race–as well as institutions of governance subvert policy change. The former vitiates inter-personal contact that could catalyze policy coalitions, while the latter induces policy-makers to become less representative of their groups. The researchers’ findings highlight novel ways that institutions shape preferences that determine policy, and accentuate how college sports offer a laboratory for studying politics.

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Elizabeth Sharrow, Assistant Professor of Political Science and History, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Download PDF