Group threat and policy change: The spatial dynamics of prohibition politics, 1890–1919

Kenneth T. Andrews, Charles Seguin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The authors argue that group threat is a key driver of the adoption of new and controversial policies. Conceptualizing threat in spatial terms, they argue that group threat is activated through the joint occurrence of (1) proximity to threatening groups and (2) the population density of threatened groups. By analyzing the adoption of county and state “dry laws” banning alcohol from 1890 to 1919, they first show that prohibition victories were driven by the relative strength of supportive constituencies such as native whites and rural residents, vis-àvis opponents such as Irish, Italian, or German immigrants or Catholics. Second, they show that threat contributed to prohibition victories: counties bordering large immigrant or urban populations, which did not themselves contain similar populations, were more likely to adopt dry laws. Threat arises primarily from interactions between spatially proximate units at the local level, and therefore higher-level policy change is not reducible to the variables driving local policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)475-510
Number of pages36
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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