Americans’ opinions on state preemption of local laws are driven by partisanship

June 09, 2023, 2:18 PM GMT+0

Laws made by state governments in the U.S. supersede laws and regulations passed by local governments, meaning that when the two conflict, the state law preempts the local law, making it unenforceable. Preemption bills that bring local issues such as zoning and education under state control have become increasingly common. Supporters of preemption argue that it sets statewide policy standards, while opponents say localities should be able to address the varying needs of their constituents without state interference. The federal government also can preempt state laws.

In a recent poll, YouGov asked Americans about their views on preemption laws and how often legislators in their state preempt local laws.

Slightly over two in five (44%) of Americans strongly or somewhat support federal preemption of state laws, while 39% strongly or “somewhat oppose federal preemption. Democrats (62%) are more likely than Independents (37%) and Republicans (31%) to support federal preemption.

Americans are more supportive of state-level preemption. About half (51%) of Americans support state preemption of local laws, and only 32% oppose state preemption. Like with federal preemption, Democrats (57%) are more supportive than Independents (47%) and Republicans (46%) of state preemption, but these differences are less pronounced than the partisan divisions over federal preemption.

When choosing which statement comes closest to their opinion on state preemption laws, Americans are more likely to say “they limit the ability of local governments to address the unique needs of their communities” (42%) than to opt for the more positive option that “they are necessary to maintain consistency across a state” (33%). Another 25% are not sure. Democrats are evenly divided between these two options (38% vs. 38%), while Republicans are more likely to say that preemption laws limit local governments than to say they are necessary for consistency (50% vs. 28%).

Americans’ support for state preemption of local laws also depends somewhat on the policies that states choose to preempt. Among policies asked about, Americans are most likely to think that state governments should be able to preempt policies about the minimum wage (48%), immigration (47%), civil rights (46%), and environmental regulations (46%). They are least likely to think the state should be able to preempt land-use policy (25%) and policy concerning LGBTQ issues (36%).

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe state governments should be able to preempt local policies across most policy areas asked about. The exceptions are immigration, marijuana legalization, abortion, and LGBTQ issues. The largest differences in support for preemption between Democrats and Republicans come for gun-access laws (48% vs. 37%), environmental regulations (51% vs. 42%), and land-use regulations (33% vs. 25%).

Despite the partisan differences in support for preemption, Americans are just as likely to think that Republican state governments override the laws of Democratic local governments as they are to think that Democratic state governments override the laws of Republican local governments. Similar proportions believe Republican and Democratic preemption occurs very often (19% vs. 19%), somewhat often (27% vs. 28%), not very often (26% vs. 24%), and never (4% vs. 4%). For each party, 24% of Americans are not sure.

However, both Democrats and Republicans think that the other party preempts local laws more often than they think their own party does. For example, 64% of Democrats believe that Republican state governments preempt Democratic local governments very or somewhat often, while only 32% of Republicans think the same. Similarly, only 37% of Democrats think Democratic state governments often preempt Republican local governments, compared to 67% of Republicans.

Partisanship also corresponds with different beliefs about preemption in Americans' local community. About one-quarter of Americans (26%) believe their state government overrides laws in their community very or “somewhat” often; 31% think preemption occurs not very often, while 6% believe their state never preempts their local laws. Another 36% are unsure. Democrats (30%) are slightly more likely than Independents (24%) and Republicans (24%) to think preemption often occurs.

Americans who live in blue states — states with a Democratic governor and a Democratic majority in the state legislature — are slightly more likely than Americans in red states to believe preemption occurs often (32% vs. 24%).

However, Democrats and Republicans who live in states controlled by the other party are more likely than Americans living in states controlled by their own party to think their state often preempts local laws. In blue states, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to think preemption occurs often (44% vs. 32%). The opposite pattern occurs in red states, with 37% of Democrats but only 15% of Republicans believing preemption occurs often. Independents in blue states (27%) are about as likely as Independents in red states (24%) to think that preemption occurs often.

Whether Americans are concerned about preemption in their local communities also varies by party. Across the U.S., 41% of Americans are very or somewhat concerned about their state government preempting local laws in their community. Democrats (49%) are slightly more likely to be worried than Independents (36%) and Republicans (39%) are.

As with beliefs about preemption frequency, Democrats and Republicans who live in states controlled by the other party are more worried about preemption. Overall, blue-state residents (45%) are more likely than red-state residents (36%) to be very or somewhat concerned about their state government preempting local laws. However, Democrats in blue states (42%) are less concerned than Republicans in blue states (63%) are. Similarly, in red states, Democrats (56%) are far more concerned than Republicans (22%) are about preemption by state government.

— Linley Sanders and Allen Houston contributed to this article

Related: Two-thirds of Americans think the country is more divided than usual

See the results from this YouGov poll

Methodology: This poll was conducted online on April 10 - 14, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 3%.

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