Shining a light on US state politics

An interview with The State of the States creator, Chris Gilson 

The US states are a unit of measure that can be used to identify trends that may bubble up to the national level.

Chris Gilson

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Chris Gilson developed the idea for The State of the States online portal

Understanding politics on the national stage often involves understanding politics at a local level. This is what Chris Gilson, Managing Editor of the US Centre's blog, realised after studying US politics for the last five years.

In early 2018, Chris was awarded funding from the LSE regular giving programme, which is supported through gifts from LSE alumni and friends. This funding allowed him to start work on a project to help increase understanding of local, state based politics in the United States. This took the form of an online resource, The State of the States, which won a Guardian University Award for Digital Innovation this year.

How did you come up with the idea for The State of the States?

Over the last five years at the US Centre, I have read a lot of academic research and looked at the kind of things that the individual states are doing. However, I realised that in the UK and in Europe there was very little knowledge about the US states. I thought it would be helpful to have a digital resource where people could find up to date information from blogs and news sources, along with datasets showing who was in power, the area's demographics, key industries and more.

Why do you feel it's so important to have an understanding of the US states?

Like it or not, the US is in the news and it's one of the most powerful countries in the world. But what we are also seeing now is that state initiatives are appearing in the news over here - the abortion policies in Alabama or the legalisation of marajuana in California for example. So people are beginning to see the US states as a unit of measure that can be used to identify trends that may bubble up to the national level.

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The State of the States allows you to explore policy trends in specific states

Who do you hope will use The State of the States?

I hope that it’s going to be a great resource for both students and educators - anyone from high school to university level. We also think it will be useful for NGO’s  - people working on specific policy issues, such as gun policy or drug policy, will be able find out what's actually going on at the ground level in the US.

How did it feel to win the award for Digital Innovation at the Guardian University Awards?

It was really great because we did a lot of work on this late last year. It was a project that was really a labour of love for me - I think it’s important and I think it’s useful. The judges were really impressed by our entry because, for a relatively small amount of resource, we were able to put together something that was accessable to everyone. That’s one of the best things about The State of the States - it’s a free resource that literally anyone can use. You don’t have to be a university member, you don’t have to have a subscription and it’s not behind a paywall. Anyone anywhere in the world can use it - I think they were really impressed with that.

Going forward into the future, do you have any more plans for The State of the States?

In the short term, we’d like to expand The State of the States to include LSE-research related to US cities, municipalities and states. Thinking a bit further ahead, we’d like to look at using machine learning techniques to streamline how we find news outlets and stories to add to The State of the States. That way we can add even more updates from local and hyperlocal blogs and news sources in the US states.

Thank you to our Regular Giving donors for helping us shine a light on US politics. You can explore The State of the States here.