American Sociological Association

Symbolic Politics of the State: The Case of In-state Tuition Bills for Undocumented Students

A symbolic politics approach contends that the meanings policy proposals convey, and the audiences they attract, may matter more than whether they become law. Yet, we know little about the sociopolitical conditions prompting lawmakers to engage in symbolic politics. Using a new data set, we analyze proposals to expand or restrict in-state college tuition for undocumented students and find that national events—House of Representatives Bill 4437 and concurrent immigrant rights protests—encouraged state lawmakers to introduce exclusionary proposals, particularly in states with low shares of immigrants. Our findings indicate that “big events” moderate the influence of state sociopolitical conditions on symbolic political activity.

Download PDF


Sarah M. Ovink, Kim Ebert, and Dina Okamoto