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Spotlight on the States: Key Online Resources (August 2012): Home

Francine Graf and George Graf


This bibliographic essay originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of Choice (volume 49 | number 12).


"The great political principles that govern American society today were born and developed in the state; one cannot doubt it.  It is therefore the state that one must know to have the key to all the rest."[1]

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America


With so much of our attention focused on national politics and the upcoming presidential election, we should not overlook the many important developments and issues on the state level.  The United States is well known for the unique and rich diversity of its local and regional governments and the many initiatives and innovations that originate at the state level.

Currently, the state of many states is grim.  Huge budget deficits, anemic economic growth, protractedly high unemployment, political battles over taxes and spending, and public sector union showdowns are among the major problems straining state and local governments across the United States.  These problems have put state governance and finances at center stage in policy debates on both the local and national levels.  In addition, many states are directly challenging federal government regulations and legislation on a number of divisive issues such as health care reform, immigration, and homeland security.  Most prominent is the legal challenge brought before the Supreme Court by twenty-six states over the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act (aka "Obamacare").  From New Jersey's Chris Christie to California's Jerry Brown, with Arizona's Jan Brewer and Wisconsin's Scott Walker in between, state affairs have not been this contentious and interesting in a long time.

A glance at almost any day's headlines reveals the broad range of controversial issues bedeviling the states: voter ID laws, same-sex marriage, stand-your-ground laws, and "personhood" legislation, to mention a few.  So volatile and uncertain is the political landscape that any essay such as this is in danger of being overtaken by events.  As we near press time the dust is only beginning to settle from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's stunning win in a divisive recall election, and the nation holds its breath in anticipation of the Supreme Court's ruling on federal health legislation.

This bibliographic essay provides a roundup of valuable free online resources for information and statistical data on the states, with an emphasis on governance and finance.  There is a wealth of online information on these topics, but much of it is subsumed in larger parent sites, making it difficult to find.  Thus, one purpose of this essay is to provide a guide to these less visible resources.  In addition, this essay highlights numerous websites exclusively devoted to coverage of state, regional, and local government affairs.  The sites covered emanate primarily from government agencies, authoritative academic and research institutions, and professional associations and think tanks.  Most offer special value for several reasons.  They are enhanced with unique features and functionalities, e.g., interactive maps, videos and other multimedia, and e-newsletters and alerts; they permit downloading of data in various formats; and they provide numerous links for easy sharing via social media.  Comments about each site are necessarily brief and do not do justice to the tremendous array of features and functionalities they offer.  Readers are advised to browse the resources to become acquainted with the full range of content provided.

The essay is organized in three main sections: General Reference; Politics and Public Policy; and Budget and Finance.  It should be informative and useful to anyone doing research or wanting to keep up with events on the state level and should also prove helpful to students trying to identify topics for course papers.  Online resources discussed within the essay are listed alphabetically by section in the "Works Cited" list at the end of the essay.

1. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.  Translated, edited and with an introduction by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 56.

Francine Graf ( is the editorial director and business and economics editor for Choice; George Graf ( was chief bibliographer and reference librarian, Trinity College, CT, until his recent retirement.