Determining Democracy


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2018 Elections and Updates Edition

2018 Elections and Updates Edition

University of Colorado, Boulder
Benjamin I. PAGE
Northwestern University with assistance by
David Doherty
Loyola University Chicago
Scott L. Minkoff
SUNY New Paltz
Josh M. Ryan
Utah State University

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Greenberg, Edward S., 1942 author. | Page, Benjamin I.,

Title: The struggle for democracy / Edward S. Greenberg, Benjamin I.
Page ; with assistance by David Doherty, Scott L. Minkoff.

Description: 12th edition, 2018 elections and updates edition. |
Hudson Street, N.Y., NY : Pearson, 2020. | Includes bibliographical
references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2018040806| ISBN 9780135246429 | ISBN

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| DemocracyUnited StatesTextbooks.

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Brief Contents
To the Student xv

To the Instructor xvii

PART I Introduction: Main Themes
1 Democracy and American Politics 1

PART II Structure
2 The Constitution 17

3 Federalism: States and Nation 44

4 The Structural Foundations of American Government and
Politics 73

PART III Political Linkage
5 Public Opinion 102

6 The News Media 137

7 Interest Groups and Business Power 165

8 Social Movements 199

9 Political Parties 226

10 Voting, Campaigns, and Elections 256

PART IV Government and Governing
11 Congress 294

12 The Presidency 332

13 The Executive Branch 364

14 The Courts 395

PART V What Government Does
15 Civil Liberties: The Struggle for Freedom 429

16 Civil Rights: The Struggle for Political Equality 463

17 Domestic Policies 493

18 Foreign and National Defense Policies 529

Appendix 564

Glossary 592

Endnotes 604

Photo Credits 645

Index 647

To the Student xv

To the Instructor xvii

PART I Introduction: Main Themes
1 Democracy and American Politics 1

The Struggle for Democracy: Robert Moses and the
Struggle of African Americans for Voting Rights 2

What Is Democracy? 2
The Origins of Democracy 3

Direct Versus Representative Democracy 5

The Benchmarks of Representative Democracy 5

Objections to Representative Democracy 10

How Do Government and Politics Work? 12
Identifying the Factors That Influence Government and
Politics 12

Connecting the Factors That Influence Government and
Politics: An Application 14

Understanding Government and Politics Holistically

PART II Structure
2 The Constitution 17

The Struggle for Democracy: Does the Advice and
Consent of the Senate Matter? 18

The American Revolution and the Declaration of
Independence 19

Key Ideas in the Declaration of Independence 20

Key Omissions in the Declaration of Independence

The Articles of Confederation: Our First Constitution

Provisions of the Articles 22

Shortcomings of the Articles 23

Factors Leading to the Constitutional Convention 24
What Worried American Notables and Why 24

The Constitutional Convention and a New Framework
for Government 27

Who Were the Framers? 28

Consensus and Conflict at the Constitutional
Convention 29

What the Framers Created at the Constitutional
Convention 32

The Struggle to Ratify the Constitution 37

The Changing Constitution, Democracy, and American
Politics 39

Changing the Constitution Through Formal
Amendment 39

Changing the Constitution Through Judicial Review

Changing the Constitution Through Political
Practices 40

Using the Democracy Standard: The Constitution: How
Democratic? 41

3 Federalism: States and Nation 44
The Struggle for Democracy: A Patchwork of Policies

Federalism as a System of Government 47
Federalism Defined 47

Comparing American Federalism 47

Federalism in the Constitution 48
Federal, State, and Concurrent Powers 49

The Roles of States in the National Government 50

Relations Among the States 51

The Evolution of American Federalism 52
The Ascendant Power of the National Government

Federalism Before the Civil War 55

Expansion of National Power Following the Civil War

Expansion of National Power in the Twentieth
Century 58

Devolution and the Rethinking of Federal Power

The Reassertion of Federal Power After 2000 61

Recent Pushback Against National Power 63

Fiscal Federalism 63
Origin and Growth of Federal Grants 64

Types of Federal Grants 64

Federal Grants: Money and Control 65

Strong States Versus a Strong National Government

Strong States: Diversity of Needs 68

Strong National Government: The Importance of
National Standards 68

Strong States: Closeness to the People 68

Strong National Government: Low Visibility of State
Officials 68

Strong States: Innovation and Experimentation 68

Strong National Government: Spillover Effects and
Competition 69

Using the Democracy Standard: American Federalism:
How Democratic? 70

4 The Structural Foundations of American Government and
Politics 73

The Struggle for Democracy: The Walmartization of
American Manufacturing: Where Will All the Good Jobs
Go? 74

Americas Population 76
Americas Population Is Growing 76

Americas Population Is Becoming More Diverse

Americas Population Is Moving West and South

Americas Population Is Growing Older 82

Americas Population Is Becoming Economically
More Unequal 82

Americas Economy 87
Main Tendencies of Capitalism 88

Globalization, Technological Change, and
Hypercompetition 89

Americas Political Culture 93
Individualistic 94

Distrustful of Government 96

Believers in Democracy and Freedom 96

Populist 97

Religious 97

Using the Democracy Standard: American Society,
Economy, and Political Culture: How Democratic?

PART III Political Linkage
5 Public Opinion 102

The Struggle for Democracy: Vietnam: A Matter of
Opinion? 103

Measuring Public Opinion 104
Public Opinion Polls 104

Challenges of Political Polling 105

Political Socialization: Learning Political Beliefs and
Attitudes 108

How and Why Peoples Political Attitudes Differ 110
Party Identification 110

Race and Ethnicity 111

Social Class 115

Geography 116

Education 116

Gender 118

Age 119

Religion 120

The Contours of American Public Opinion: Are the
People Fit to Rule? 122

The Peoples Knowledge About Politics 122

The Peoples Attitudes About the Political System

The Peoples Liberalism and Conservatism 128

The Peoples Policy Preferences 128

The Peoples Fitness to Rule Revisited 132

Using the Democracy Standard: Public Opinion: Does It
Determine What Government Does? 133

6 The News Media 137
The Struggle for Democracy: War with the Watchdog

How News Organizations Operate 139
The Functions of the News Media in a Democracy

News Media Organizations 140

Profit Motives of the News Media 142

News-Gathering and Production Operations 144

Online News Media 150

Bias in the News 155
Ideological Bias 155

Nonideological Bias 157

Effects of the News Media on Politics 158
Agenda Setting 158

Priming 159

Framing 159

Fueling Cynicism 160

Fragmenting Comprehension 160

Using the Democracy Standard: The News Media: Do
They Help or Hinder Democracy 162

7 Interest Groups and Business Power 165
The Struggle for Democracy: Disaster in the Gulf 166

Interest Groups in a Democratic Society: Contrasting
Viewpoints 168

The Evils-of-Faction Argument 168

The Pluralist Argument 168

The Universe of Interest Groups 170
Private Interest Groups 170

Public Interest Groups 173

Interest Group Formation and Proliferation 174
The Constitution 174

Diverse Interests 175

A More Active Government 175

Disturbances 176

What Interest Groups Do 177
The Inside Game 177

The Outside Game 182

Interest Groups, Corporate Power, and Inequality in
American Politics 185

Representational Inequality 185

Resource Inequality 186

Access Inequality 188

The Privileged Position of Corporations 190

Curing the Mischief of Factions 194

Using the Democracy Standard: Interest Groups: Do
They Help or Hinder American Democracy? 196

8 Social Movements 199
The Struggle for Democracy: Women Win the Right to
Vote: Why Did It Take So Long? 200

What Are Social Movements? 201

Major Social Movements in the United States 204
The Abolitionist Movement 204

The Populist Movement 204

The Womens Suffrage Movement 205

The Labor Movement 205

The Civil Rights Movement 205

Contemporary Antiwar Movements 205

The Womens Movement 208

The Environmental Movement 208

The Gay and Lesbian Movements 208

The Religious Conservative Movement 208

The Anti-Globalization Movement 209

The Tea Party Movement 209

The Occupy Wall Street Movement 210

The Black Lives Matter Movement 211

The Role of Social Movements in a Democracy 212
Encouraging Participation 212

Overcoming Political Inequality 213

Creating New Majorities 213

Overcoming Constitutional Inertia 213

Factors That Encourage the Formation of Social
Movements 214

Real or Perceived Distress 214

Availability of Resources for Mobilization 215

A Supportive Environment 216

A Sense of Efficacy Among Participants 216

A Spark to Set Off the Flames 217

Tactics of Social Movements 218

Why Do Some Social Movements Succeed and Others
Fail? 219

Low-Impact Social Movements 219

Repressed Social Movements 219

Partially Successful Social Movements 220

Successful Social Movements 221

Using the Democracy Standard: Social Movements: Do
Social Movements Make America More or Less
Democratic? 223

9 Political Parties 226
The Struggle for Democracy: Populist Factions Take
Hold for Republicans and Democrats 227

Political Parties in Democratic Systems 229

The American Two-Party System 231
The Rules of the Game 231

Minor Parties in American Politics 232

The American Two-Party System Since the Great
Depression 234

The New Deal Party Era 235

The Dealignment Era 236

The Polarization Era 238

The Three Functions of Todays Political Parties 239
Parties as Ideological Organizations 240

Parties as Electoral Organizations 244

Parties as Governing Organizations 248

Using the Democracy Standard: Political Parties: How
Do Our Two Major Political Parties Affect Democracy?

10 Voting, Campaigns, and Elections 256
The Struggle for Democracy: The Reasons for Trumps
Success 257

Elections and Democracy 259
The Prospective (or Responsible Party) Voting Model

The Electoral Competition Voting Model 260

The Retrospective (or Reward and Punishment)
Voting Model 261

Imperfect Electoral Democracy 262

Which Party Model Works Best? 262

The Unique Nature of American Elections 263
Elections Are Numerous and Frequent 263

Election Procedure and Vote-Counting
Inconsistencies 264

First-Past-the-Post Wins 264

Voting in the United States 265
Expansion of the Franchise 265

Direct Partisan Elections 266

Barriers to Voting and Low Voter Turnout 267

Reform Proposals and New Struggles over Voting
Rights 269

Who Votes? 270
Income and Education 270

Race and Ethnicity 272

Age 272

Gender 272

Does It Matter Who Votes? 273

The Presidential Campaign 274
Preparing to Run and the Invisible Primary 274

The Presidential Primary System 276

The General Election Campaign 278

Money in General Elections 281

Election Outcomes 287
How Voters Decide 287

The Electoral College 288

Using the Democracy Standard: Voting, Campaigns,
and Elections: Do Voting, Campaigns, and Elections
Make Government Leaders Listen to the People? 291

PART IV Government and Governing
11 Congress 294

The Struggle for Democracy: The 2018 Midterm
Elections: Democrats Take Back the House But Lose
Ground in the Senate 295

Constitutional Foundations of Congress 296
Enumerated and Implied Powers of Congress 296

Constraints on Congress 296

Basis for Representation in Congress 298

Is Congress Still Capable of Solving Big Problems?

Representation and Democracy in Congress 300
Two Styles of Representation 300

Member Demographics 301

Representation in the House: Reapportionment and
Redistricting 303

Representation in the Senate 307

How Representative Is Congress? A Look Back at
the Arguments 307

Congressional Elections 307
The Congressional Election Process 308

Who Runs for Congress? 308

Money and Congressional Elections 309

The Incumbency Factor 311

Do Congressional Elections Ensure Proper
Representation? 312

The Congressional Legislative Process 313
Introducing a Bill 315

Referral to Committee 315

The Rules Committee 316

Floor Action on a Bill 316

Resolving Bicameral Differences 319

Presidential Action on a Bill 320

Party and Leader Influences on the Passage Process

Voting in Congress 323
Procedural and Substantive Votes 323

Partisan Polarization and Party-Line Voting in
Congress 323

Congressional Oversight of the Executive Branch 325
Nominee Confirmations 326

Hearings and Investigations 326

Impeachment 327

Using the Democracy Standard: Congress: Is Congress
Out of Touch with the American People? 328

12 The Presidency 332
The Struggle for Democracy: The Presidency 333

The Expanding Presidency 334
The Framers Conception of the Presidency 335

The Dormant Presidency 336

The Twentieth Century Transformation 337

How Important Are Individual Presidents? 341

The Powers and Roles of the President 342

Chief of State 342

Domestic Policy Leader 342

Chief Executive 344

Foreign Policy and Military Leader 346

Party Leader 349

The Presidents Support System 350
The White House Staff 350

The Executive Office of the President 351

The Vice Presidency 352

The Cabinet 353

The President and Congress: Perpetual Tug-of-War

Conflict by Constitutional Design 354

What Makes a President Successful with Congress?

The President and the People 357
Getting Closer to the People 358

Leading Public Opinion 358

Responding to the Public 359

Presidential Popularity 359

Using the Democracy Standard: The Presidency:
Presidents and the American People 361

13 The Executive Branch 364
The Struggle for Democracy: A Changing Bureaucracy

How the Executive Branch Is Organized 366
Cabinet-Level Departments 367

Independent Regulatory Commissions 369

Independent Executive Agencies 369

Other Federal Bureaucracies 371

What Do Bureaucracies and Bureaucrats Do? 371
Executing Programs and Policies 371

Exercising Discretion 372

Regulating 372

Adjudicating 373

Discretion and Democracy 374

Who Are the Bureaucrats? 374
The Merit System 375

Political Appointees 376

How Different Are Civil Servants from Other
Americans? 378

Political and Governmental Influences on Bureaucratic
Behavior 378

The President and the Bureaucracy 378

Congress and the Bureaucracy 380

The Courts and the Bureaucracy 382

The Public and Press and the Bureaucracy 383

Interest Groups and the Bureaucracy 384

The American Bureaucracy: Controversies and
Challenges 385

Hostile Political Culture 385

Incoherent Organization 386

Divided Control 387

Reforming the Federal Bureaucracy 387
Scaling Back Its Size 387

Becoming More Businesslike 390

Protecting Against Bureaucratic Abuses of Power

Increasing Presidential Control 391

Using the Democracy Standard: The Executive Branch:
Does the Bureaucracy Advance or Hinder Democracy?

14 The Courts 395
The Struggle for Democracy: The Battle for the Courts

The Foundations of Judicial Power 398
Constitutional Design 398

Judicial Review 398

The Federal Court System: Jurisdiction and
Organization 401

The Jurisdiction of the Federal Courts 401

The Organization of the Federal Court System 402

Appointment to the Federal Bench 406
Who Are the Appointees? 406

The Appointment Process 408

The Supreme Court in Action 410
The Norms of Operation 410

Control of the Agenda 411

Deciding Cases 412

Outside Influences on Supreme Court Decisions

The Supreme Court as a National Policy Maker 418
Structural Change and Constitutional Interpretation

The Debate over Judicial Activism 423

Using the Democracy Standard: The Courts: Does the
Supreme Court Enhance American Democracy? 426

PART V What Government Does
15 Civil Liberties: The Struggle for Freedom 429

The Struggle for Democracy: Digital Surveillance and
the War on Terror 430

Civil Liberties in the Constitution 431
Explicit Protections in the Constitution 431

Incorporation of the Bill of Rights 433

First Amendment Freedoms 434
Freedom of Speech 436

Freedom of the Press 439

Religious Freedom 441

Rights of the Accused 446
Unreasonable Searches and Seizures 447

Right to Counsel and Protections Against Self-
Incrimination 448

Capital Punishment 450

Terrorism and the Rights of the Accused 454

Right to Privacy 456
Private Decisions 457

Private Communications 458

Using the Democracy Standard: Civil Liberties: So, Has
the State of American Freedom Improved? 460

16 Civil Rights: The Struggle for Political Equality 463
The Struggle for Democracy: Civil Rights, African
Americans, and the Police 464

The Status of Civil Rights Before 1900 465
An Initial Absence of Civil Rights in the Constitution

Civil Rights After Ratification of the Civil War
Amendments 466

The Contemporary Status of Civil Rights for Racial and
Ethnic Minorities 469

The End of Government-Sponsored Segregation and
Discrimination 469

The Beginning of Government-Sponsored Remedies
to Right Past Wrongs 471

The Contemporary Status of Civil Rights for Women

Intermediate Scrutiny 480

Abortion Rights 481

Sexual Harassment and Hostile Environments 482

American Women by Comparison 484

Broadening the Civil Rights Umbrella 485
The Elderly and People with Disabilities 485

Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender People 485

Using the Democracy Standard: Civil Rights: Is Equal
Citizenship a Reality in the United States? 490

17 Domestic Policies 493
The Struggle for Democracy: Environmental Regulation
in a Polarized Era 494

Why Does the Federal Government Do So Much? 495
Managing the Economy 496

Providing a Safety Net 496

Economic Policy 497

The Goals of Economic Policy 497

The Tools of Economic Policy 500

The Federal Budget 503
The Budgeting Process 503

Federal Spending 504

Federal Revenues 506

Budget Deficits and the National Debt 508

Regulation 510
The Role of Regulation 510

The Recent History of Regulation 510

Federal Safety Net Programs 512
Types of Federal Safety Net Programs 512

Social Insurance Programs 513

Means-Tested Anti-Poverty Programs 515

Poverty in the United States 518

Health Care Policy 520
Key Components of the ACA 521

Challenges and Changes to the ACA 522

The American Safety Net in Context 523

Factors That Have Shaped the American Safety Net

Using the Democracy Standard: Domestic Policies: Do
Americans Get the Economic Policies and Safety Net
Programs They Want from Government? 525

18 Foreign and National Defense Policies 529
The Struggle for Democracy: The Syrian Nightmare

Foreign and National Security Policies and Democracy

Dimensions of Americas Superpower Status 533
American Superpower: Structural Foundations

American Superpower: Strategic Alternatives 542
What Goals for American Power? 542

How to Use American Power? Competing
Viewpoints 543

Problems of the PostCold War World 544
Security Issues 544

Economic and Social Issues 552

Who Makes Foreign and National Defense Policies?

The President and the Executive Branch 556

Congress 559

Using the Democracy Standard: Foreign and National
Defense Policies: What Role Do the People Play in
Foreign and Defense Policy Making? 561

Appendix 564

Glossary 592

Endnotes 604

Photo Credits 645

Index 647

To the Student
Why study American government and politics, and why read this
textbook to do it? Heres why: Only by understanding how our
complex political system operates and how government works can
you play a role in deciding what government does. Only by
understanding the obstacles that stand in your way as you enter the
political fray, as well as the abundant opportunities you have to
advance your ideas and values in the political process, can you play
an effective role.

You can learn this best, we believe, by studying what political
scientists have discovered about American politics and government.
Political science is the systematic study of the role that people and
groups play in determining what government does; how government
goes about implementing its policy decisions; and what social,
economic, and political consequences flow from government actions.
The best political science research is testable, evidence-based, and
peer-reviewedas free as possible from ideological and partisan bias
as it can be.

The Struggle for Democracy not only introduces you to that research
but also gives you tools to decode the American political system,
analyze its pieces, consider its linkages, and identify opportunities to
make a difference. A simple but powerful framework will guide you in
discovering how government, politics, and the larger society are

intertwined and how government policies are a product of the
interactions of actors and institutions across these domains.

Our hope and expectation is that The Struggle for Democracy will
enable your success in your introduction to American government and
politics course. But we are interested in more than your classroom
experiences. We believe that knowing how politics and government
work and how closely they conform to our democratic values will also
enable a lifetime of productive choices. Put all navet aside, however.
Making a mark on public policies is never easy. Like-minded
individuals need to do more than vote. Those who gain the most from
government policies have, after all, substantial resources to make
certain that government treats them well.

But you have resources to make changes, too. Beyond voting,
opportunities for affecting change may come from your involvement in
political campaigns, from using social media to persuade others of
your views or to organize meetings and demonstrations, from
participating in social movements, from contributing to groups and
politicians who share your views, and from many more such avenues.
So, much like waging war, making your voice heard requires that you
know the lay of the land, including the weapons you have at your
disposal (we would call them political tools) and the weapons of those
arrayed against you. But, much like peacemaking, you need to know
how and when compromises can be reached that serve the interests
of all parties.

Lest all of the above seems too daunting, we also have tried to make
this book enjoyable, accessible, and fun. If your experience in reading
The Struggle for Democracy comes close to the pleasure we had in
writing it, we have come as near as possible to achieving our goal.

Meet Your Author

EDWARD S. GREENBERG is Professor Emeritus of Political Science
and Research Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of
Colorado, Boulder. Eds research and teaching interests include
American government and politics, domestic and global political
economy, and democratic theory and practice, with a special
emphasis on workplace issues. His multi-year longitudinal panel
study, funded by the NIH, examining the impact of technological
change and the globalization of production on Boeing managers and
employees, is reported in more than a dozen journal articles and in his
book Turbulence: Boeing and the State of American Workers and
Managers (Yale University Press, 2010, co-authored with Leon
Grunberg, Sarah Moore, and Pat Sikora). He is currently doing
research on the global competition between Boeing and Airbus and its
impact on people who work in these firms.

To the Instructor
Ben Page and I decided to write this book because, as instructors
in introductory American government courses, we could not find a
book that provided students with usable tools for critically analyzing
our political system and making judgments about how well our
government works. The Struggle for Democracy does not simply
present facts about government and politicsit also provides several
analytical and normative frameworks for putting the flood of facts we
ask our students to absorb into a more comprehensible form. By doing
so, I believe we have made it easier and more satisfying for instructors
to teach the introductory course.

Our goal all along was to create a textbook that treats students as
adults, engages their intellectual and emotional attention, and
encourages them to be active learners. Every element in this text is
designed to promote the kind of critical thinking skills scholars and
instructors believe students need to become the engaged, active, and
informed citizens that are so vital to any democracy. Over the next
several sections, I show the elements we created to meet these


Approach The Struggle for Democracy provides several analytical
and normative frameworks for putting the flood of facts teachers ask
their students to absorb into a more comprehensible form. Although all
topics that are common and expected in the introductory American
government and politics course are covered in this textbook, the two
main focal pointsan analytical framework for understanding how
politics and government work and the normative question How
democratic are we? (addressed in concluding remarks at the end of
each chapter under the Using the Democracy Standard headline)
allow for a fresh look at traditional topics.

This book pays great attention to structural factorswhich include the
American economy, social and demographic change in the United
States, technological innovations and change, the American political
culture, and changes in the global systemand examines how they
affect politics, government, and public policy. These factors are
introduced in Chapter 4 a chapter unique among introductory
textsand they are brought to bear on a wide range of issues in
subsequent chapters.

The Struggle for Democracy attends very carefully to issues of
democratic political theory. This follows from a critical thinking
objective, which asks students to assess the progress of, and
prospects for, democracy in the United States and from a desire to
present American history as the history of the struggle for democracy.
For instance, Struggle examines how the evolution of the party system
has improved democracy in some respects in the United States, but
hurt it in others.

Struggle also includes more historical perspective because it provides
the necessary context for thinking comprehensively and critically
about contemporary political debates. It shows, for example, how the
expansion of civil rights in the United States is tied to important
historical events and trends.

Comparisons of developments, practices, and institutions in the United
States with those in other nations add another dimension to our
understanding. We can better comprehend how our system of social
welfare works, for example, when we see how other rich democratic
countries deal with the problems of poverty, unemployment, and old

COVERAGE In an effort to build a ground-up understanding of
American politics and the policy outcomes it does (and does not)
produce, the chapters in Struggle mirror the structure of our analytical
pyramid framework. Part 1 includes an introduction to the textbook, its
themes, and the critical thinking tools used throughout the book. Part
2 covers the structural foundations of American government and
politics, addressing subjects such as the U.S. economy and political
culture and its place in the international system; the constitutional
framework of the American political system; and the development of
federalism. Part 3 focuses on political linkage institutions such as
parties, elections, public opinion, social movements, and interest
groups that convey the wants, needs, and demands of individuals and
groups to public officials. Part 4 concentrates on the central
institutions of the national government, including the presidency,
Congress, and the Supreme Court. Part 5 describes the kinds of

policies the national government produces and analyzes how effective
government is at solving pressing social and economic problems. The
analytical framework used in this book also means that the subjects of
civil liberties and civil rights are not treated in conjunction with the
Constitution in Part 2, which is the case with many introductory texts,
but in Part 5, on public policy. This is because we believe that the real-
world status of civil liberties and civil rights, while partly determined by
specific provisions of the Constitution, is better understood as the
outcome of the interaction of structural, political, and governmental
factors. For example, the status of civil rights for gays, lesbians, and
transgendered people depends not only on constitutional provisions
but also on the state of public opinion, degrees of support from elected
political leaders, and the decisions of the Supreme Court.

PEDAGOGY The Struggle for Democracy offers unique features that







General strain theory (GST) is usually tested by examining the effect of strain on
crime. Researchers, however, have little guidance when it comes to selecting among
the many hundreds of types of strain and have trouble explaining why only some of
them are related to crime. This article builds on GST by describing the characteristics
of strainful events and conditions that influence their relationship to crime. Strains
are said to be most likely to result in crime when they (1) are seen as unjust, (2) are
seen as high in magnitude, (3) are associated with low social control, and (4) create
some pressure or incentive to engage in criminal coping. Drawing on these character-
istics, it is predicted that some types of strain will not be related to crime, including
types that have dominated the research on strain theory, and that others will be related
to crime, including types that have been neglected by empirical researchers.

General strain theory (GST) argues that strains or stressors increase the
likelihood of negative emotions like anger and frustration. These emotions
create pressure for corrective action, and crime is one possible response
(Agnew 1992). Crime may be a method for reducing strain (e.g., stealing the
money you desire), seeking revenge, or alleviating negative emotions (e.g.,
through illicit drug use). GST builds on previous strain theories in several
ways: most notably, by pointing to several new categories of strain, including
the loss of positive stimuli (e.g., loss of a romantic partner, death of a friend),
the presentation of negative stimuli (e.g., physical assaults and verbal in-
sults), and new categories of goal blockage (e.g., the failure to achieve justice
goals). Recent research demonstrates that many of the specific strains falling
under these categories are related to crime and delinquency (see Agnew
2001a for a summary; Aseltine, Gore, and Gordon 2000; Mazerolle et al.
2000; Piquero and Sealock 2000). The specification of these new categories
of strain is GSTs greatest strength.

JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN CRIME AND DELINQUENCY, Vol. 38 No. 4, November 2001 319-361
2001 Sage Publications


This strength, however, is also GSTs biggest weakness. GST is so broad
that researchers have little guidance as to the specific types of strain to exam-
ine in their research. Hundreds of types of strain fall under the major catego-
ries of strain listed by GST, as reflected in recent inventories of stressful life
events, chronic stressors, and daily life events or hassles (see Cohen, Kessler,
and Gordon 1995; Herbert and Cohen 1996 for overviews). And even these
inventories do not measure many of the strains described by GST. Further-
more, the broadness of GST makes it difficult to falsify. As Jensen (1995)
stated, if strain can be defined in so many different ways, then strain theory
is virtually unfalsifiable. There is always a new measure that might salvage
the theory (p. 152).

It is therefore crucial that GST more precisely specify the types of strain
most likely to lead to crime and delinquency. This article represents an
attempt to do that. First, strain is defined. Although Agnew (1992) presented
a general definition of strain, the term has nevertheless been used in different
ways by researchers and it is important to clarify its meaning. Second, previ-
ous tests of GST are reviewed to determine what they say about the types of
strain most likely to lead to crime. Third, the characteristics of those types of
strain most likely to lead to crime are described. Briefly, such strains (1) are
seen as unjust, (2) are seen as high in magnitude, (3) are associated with low
social control, and (4) create some pressure or incentive to engage in crime.
Fourth, these characteristics are then used to predict the likelihood that sev-
eral types of strain will result in crime. Fifth, suggestions for empirical
research are provided.


Before discussing the types of strain most likely to lead to crime, it is first
necessary to clarify what is meant by the term strain. Agnew (1992) stated
that strain refers to relationships in which others are not treating the individ-
ual as he or she would like to be treated (p. 48). Even so, researchers use the
term in different ways. Some refer to an objective event or condition (e.g., the
infliction of physical abuse, the receipt of poor grades at school), some to the
individuals evaluation of an event or condition (e.g., whether juveniles
like the way their parents or teachers treat them), and some to the emotional
reaction to an event or condition (e.g., whether respondents are angry at how
others treat them). To help clarify the meaning of strain, the following defini-
tions are proposed.

Objective strains refer to events or conditions that are disliked by most
members of a given group. So, if we state that an individual is experiencing
objective strain, we mean that he or she is experiencing an event or condition


that is usually disliked by members of his or her group. Many events and con-
ditions are disliked by most people, regardless of group membership (e.g.,
physical assault, lack of adequate food and shelter). The evaluation of other
events and conditions varies with group characteristics, such as gender and
age (e.g., Broidy and Agnew 1997; Elder, George, and Shanahan 1996). It is,
of course, important for researchers to consider the possibility of such group
differences when constructing measures of objective strain.

Empirically, it is possible to determine the objective strains for group
members in several ways. Observational research is one method. Anderson
(1999), for example, described many of the objective strains in a poor,
inner-city, African American community. Surveying a representative sample
of group members or people familiar with the group is another method, and
both have been employed in the stress research (Turner and Wheaton 1995).
In particular, respondents can be asked whether they (or group members)
would dislike a range of events and conditions. It is important to present
respondents with preestablished lists of events/conditions and to ask them to
list events/conditions not on the list. This helps to ensure that a complete list
of objective strains is developed.1

Subjective strains refer to events or conditions that are disliked by the peo-
ple who are experiencing (or have experienced) them. So, if we state that indi-
viduals are experiencing subjective strain, we mean that they are experienc-
ing an event or condition that they dislike. One of the key findings to emerge
from the stress research is that individuals often differ in their subjective eval-
uation of the same objective strains. For example, people differ in how they
subjectively evaluate such objective strains as divorce and the death of a fam-
ily member. The subjective evaluation of an objective strain is a function of a
range of factors, including individual traits (e.g., irritability), personal and
social resources (e.g., self-esteem, self-efficacy, social support), goals/values/
identities, and a range of life circumstances (for overviews, see Dohrenwend
1998; Kaplan 1996; Lazarus 1999). Wheaton (1990), for example, found that
the quality of onesprior marriage strongly influenced how people evaluated
their divorce, with people in bad marriages evaluating their divorce in posi-
tive terms. It is also important to note that an individuals evaluation of an
objective strain frequently changes over time as the individual copes with the
strain. So, although there is a relationship between objective and subjective
strain, it is far from perfect.

Most of the research on strain theory employs measures of objective strain
(although see Agnew and White 1992). Researchers ask individuals whether
they have experienced a certain event or condition (e.g., Did you fail any
classes? Do your parents yell at you?); no effort is made to measure the indi-
viduals subjective evaluation of this event/condition. This may cause


researchers to underestimate the support for strain theory because objective
strains sometimes create little subjective strain. This does not mean, however,
that researchers should simply employ subjective measures of strain. It is
important to examine objective strains as well because this allows us to better
distinguish external events from the subjective evaluation of such events. We
can then examine individual and group differences in both the exposure to
external events/conditions likely to cause strain and the subjective evaluation
of those events/conditions. Furthermore, we can explore the factors that
influence individual and group differences in the subjective evaluation of the
same external events and conditions. This is critical if we are to fully explain
individual and group differences in crime. As an illustration, Bernard (1990)
argued that poor, inner-city residents have higher rates of violence not only
because they experience more objective strains but also because they are
more sensitive to such strains (also see Thoits 1995 on individual and group
differences in the vulnerability to stressors).

The emotional response to an event or condition is closely linked to sub-
jective strain. Subjective strain deals with the individuals evaluation of an
event or condition. There are many definitions of emotion, but most state that
a central component of an emotion is an evaluation of or an affective response
to some object or behavior or idea. Most theorists, however, go on to state that
emotions involve more than an evaluation or affective response. For example,
they also involve changes in physiological or bodily sensations (see
Berkowitz 1993; Smith-Lovin 1995; Thoits 1989). Building on this argu-
ment, I would contend that subjective strain is distinct from the full emotional
reaction to strain.

Two individuals may evaluate an event/condition in the same way; that is,
they may both dislike it an equal amount. So, they have the same level of sub-
jective strain. One may become angry in response to the strain, however,
whereas the other may become depressed. And they may differ in the degree
to which they experience certain emotions, so one may become quite angry,
whereas the other may experience only mild anger. So the same subjective
strain may result in rather different emotional reactions. Again, a range of
individual and environmental factors influences the emotional reaction to
subjective strain. The potential utility of distinguishing between subjective
strain and the emotional reaction to strain is highlighted by Broidy and
Agnew (1997). They argued that males and females often differ in their emo-
tional reaction to subjective strains. Although both males and females may
experience anger, the anger of females is more likely to be accompanied by
feelings of guilt, depression, and anxiety. These additional emotions are said
to reduce the likelihood of other-directed crime, thereby helping us explain
gender differences in such crime.



Agnew (1992) described those types of events and conditions most likely
to be classified as objective strains and to result in subjective strain. Such
events/conditions involve goal blockage, the loss of positive stimuli, and/or
the presentation of negative stimuli. They are also high in magnitude
(degree), recent, and of long duration. But as indicated earlier, hundreds of
events/conditions meet these criteria, and so there are potentially hundreds of
objective and subjective strains. Agnew did not discuss whether certain of
these strains are more likely to result in crime than others. Rather, he treated
these strains as more or less equivalent in terms of their impact on crime. He
argued that whether they result in crime is largely a function of the character-
istics of the individuals experiencing the strain. In particular, strain is most
likely to lead to crime when individuals lack the skills and resources to cope
with their strain in a legitimate manner, are low in conventional social sup-
port, are low in social control, blame their strain on others, and are disposed to
crime. This article builds on Agnew by arguing that the effect of strain on
crime is not only a function of individual characteristics but also of the type of
strain experienced by the individual. Certain types of straineither objective
or subjective strainare more likely to result in crime than other types.

Previous research on GST provides some information about the types of
strain most likely to lead to crime, although much of this research suffers
from two problems that severely limit its utility. First, most tests of GST only
examine a small portion of the strains described by Agnew (1992). These
tests tend to make use of existing data sets, which were not collected for the
purpose of testing GST. As a consequence, many key strain measures are
missingparticularly measures of the types of goal blockage described by
Agnew and measures of certain types of negative treatment, like peer abuse
and experiences with racial discrimination and prejudice. So we have little
idea whether these types of strain are related to delinquency. Second, most
tests of GST examine the effect of a single, cumulative strain measure on
delinquency. In some cases, a measure of stressful life events is employed.
Hoffmann and associates, for example, tested GST using a 16- to 18-item
measure that focuses on events like death, illness, or accidents among fam-
ily or friends; changes in school or residence; parental divorce or separation;
and family financial problems (Hoffmann and Cerbone 1999; Hoffmann
and Miller 1998; Hoffmann and Su 1997; also see Aseltine et al. 2000). In
other cases, the cumulative strain measure is a composite of several scales
and/or items measuring a range of different types of strain, such as neighbor-
hood problems, negative relations with adults, the failure to achieve educa-
tional and occupational goals, breaking up with a romantic partner or friend,


and getting lower grades than you deserve (e.g., Mazerolle 1998; Mazerolle
et al. 2000; Mazerolle and Piquero 1997). The use of such cumulative mea-
sures means that we lack information on the effect of the individual strain

Researchers employ cumulative measures of strain because Agnew
(1992) argued that it is not the effect of one specific strain or stressor that is
important; rather, it is the cumulative effect of all the strains experienced by
the individual. He recommended combining individual strain measures into a
single scale so as to better estimate this cumulative effect (pp. 62-63). It is
assumed that all or most of the individual strain measures in the cumulative
scale make some contribution to crime. As will be argued below, there is good
reason to question this assumption. Most cumulative measures encompass a
wide range of strains, and it is likely that some contribute to crime and some
do not. Given this fact, it is not surprising that most cumulative measures have
only a moderate impact on crime. A consideration of different types of strain,
however, might reveal that some have a strong impact on crime, whereas oth-
ers have little or no impact.

Some tests of GST do examine the impact of different types of strain on
crime among adolescents. Agnew and White (1992) examined the effect of
eight strain measures on delinquency, including both general and specific
measures. They found that negative life events, life hassles, negative relations
with adults, and parental fighting are significantly associated with delin-
quency. Neighborhood problems, unpopularity with the opposite sex, occu-
pational strain, and clothing strain are not associated with delinquency. Pater-
noster and Mazerolle (1994) examined the effect of five strain measures on
delinquency. They found that neighborhood problems, negative life events,
school/peer hassles, and negative relations with adults are significantly asso-
ciated with subsequent delinquency, whereas a measure of educational and
occupational expectations is not (see Mazerolle 1998 for information on gen-
der differences in the effect of these strain measures). Aseltine et al. (2000)
found that family and peer conflict (through anger) are related to selected
types of delinquency. Agnew and Brezina (1997) found that poor relations
with peers is related to delinquency, whereas unpopularity with peers is not.
Piquero and Sealock (2000) found that physical and emotional abuse in the
household (toward the juvenile and others) is related to delinquency (also see
Brezina 1999). Tests of classic strain theory typically find that the failure to
achieve educational and occupational goals is not related to delinquency (see
Agnew 1995a). The failure to achieve economic goals, however, may be
related to delinquency (Burton and Dunaway 1994).

Many other studies have not set out to test GST but have examined types of
strain that fall under the theory. Several studies found that adolescent crime is


significantly related to criminal victimization; parental abuse and neglect;
parental rejection; disciplinary techniques that are excessive, very strict,
erratic, and/or punitive (e.g., nagging, yelling, threats, insults, and/or hit-
ting); family conflict; parental divorce/separation; and negative experiences
at school (low grades, poor relations with teachers, and the perception that
school is boring and a waste of time). Summaries of these studies are pro-
vided in Agnew (1992, 1995b, 1997, 2001a, 2001b). Studies of adults sug-
gest that crime is related to marital problems, work in the secondary labor
market, unemployment in certain cases, and possibly the failure to achieve
economic goals (Agnew et al. 1996; Baron and Hartnagel 1997; Cernkovich,
Giordano, and Rudolph 2000; Colvin 2000; Crutchfield and Pitchford 1997;
Sampson and Laub 1993; Uggen 2000). There has not been enough good
research on other types of strain to draw any firm conclusions about their
relationship to crime.

The above studies, then, suggested that certain types of strain are related to
crime whereas others are not. At this point, it seems safe to conclude that
crime is related to verbal and physical assaults, including assaults by parents,
spouses/partners, teachers, and probably peers. Crime is also related to
parental rejection, poor school performance, and work problems, including
work in the secondary labor market. Crime is not related to the expected fail-
ure to achieve educational/occupational success or to unpopularity with
peers. Beyond that, the relationship between various strains and crime is

These data pose a major problem for GST: Why is it that only some types
of strain are related to crime? At present, GST offers little guidance in this
area. GST, for example, does not allow us to explain why verbal and physical
assaults are related to crime, but the failure to achieve educational/
occupational goals and unpopularity with peers is not. All of these strains fall
under the categories listed by Agnew (1992), and they are frequently high in
magnitude (degree), recent, and of long duration.

Recent versions of GST do argue that certain types of strain are especially
relevant to crime (Agnew and Brezina 1997; Broidy and Agnew 1997).
Agnew (1997, 2001a, 2001b), for example, argued that although many types
of goal blockage may lead to delinquency, the failure to achieve monetary,
autonomy, and masculinity goals are of special importance. And he argued
that although a range of negative or noxious stimuli may cause delinquency,
physical and verbal assaults are of special importance. These suggestions,
however, are not derived from theory. Rather, they represent ad hoc attempts
to explain empirical findings or to incorporate other theoretical and empirical
work into GST. Much theoretical and empirical work, for example, suggests
that threats to ones status, particularly ones masculine status, contribute to


crime in certain groups (Anderson 1999; Messerschmidt 1993). Likewise,
some theoretical and empirical work suggests that the blockage of autonomy
goals contributes to delinquency (Agnew 1984; Moffitt 1993; Tittle 1995).

And although empirical research is starting to point to those types of strain
that are and are not related to delinquency, it is not wise to depend on such
research to fully resolve this issue. There are hundreds of specific types of
strain; it will take empirical researchers a long while to determine their rela-
tive importance (although observational research and open-ended, intensive
interviews can be of some help here). Furthermore, we would still lack an
explanation of why some types of strain have a greater effect on crime than
other types. The lack of such an explanation might cause us to overlook cer-
tain important types of strain. It is therefore important for GST to better
explain why some types of strain are more likely to lead to crime than other


Individuals may cope with strain in a number of ways, only some of which
involve crime (see Agnew 1992). Individuals may cope using a variety of
cognitive strategies, most of which attempt to redefine strainful events and
conditions in ways that minimize their adversity. Individuals may employ
behavioral coping strategies that are intended to terminate, reduce, or escape
from the strainful events and conditions. Certain of these strategies involve
conventional behaviors (e.g., negotiating with the people who harass you),
whereas others involve crime (e.g., assaulting the people who harass you).
And they may employ emotional coping strategies that are intended to allevi-
ate the negative emotions that result from strain. Certain of these strategies
involve conventional actions (e.g., listening to music), whereas others
involve crime (e.g., illicit drug use). It is argued here that some types of strain
are more likely to result in crime than other types because they influence the
ability to cope in a noncriminal versus criminal manner, the perceived costs
of noncriminal versus criminal coping, and the disposition for noncriminal
versus criminal coping. (As indicated above, these factors are also affected by
a range of individual characteristics.)

The characteristics of those types of strain most likely to result in crime
are discussed in this section, with the discussion referring to both objective
and subjective strains. In brief, it is argued that strains are most likely to result
in crime when they (1) are seen as unjust, (2) are seen as high in magnitude,
(3) are associated with low social control, and (4) create some pressure or
incentive to engage in criminal coping. These characteristics are derived


primarily from the stress, justice, and emotions literatures (see references
below); the social interactionist theory of coercive behavior (Tedeschi and
Felson 1994); defiance theory (Sherman 1993); reintegrative-shaming the-
ory (Briathwaite 1989); frustration-aggression theory (Berkowitz 1993);
techniques of neutralization or moral disengagement theory (Bandura 1990;
Sykes and Matza 1957); differential coercion theory (Colvin 2000); social
control theory; social-learning theory; and the routine activities perspective
(Cullen and Agnew 1999). There is a discussion of why these characteristics
are important and how researchers can determine whether specific types of
strain possess these characteristics. In the next section, these characteristics
are used to predict the likelihood that several specific types of strain will
result in crime.

The Strain Is Seen as Unjust

Agnew (1992) presented unjust treatment as a distinct category of strain,
classified under the failure to achieve positively-valued goals. In particular,
Agnew spoke of the disjunction between just/fair outcomes and actual out-
comes. It is here argued that unjust treatment is not a special type of strain dis-
tinct from the other types. The issue of injustice applies to all types of strain;
that is, it is possible to classify any type of strain according to the extent to
which it is seen as unjust. Those types of strain seen as unjust should be more
likely to lead to crime, primarily because they are more likely to provoke
emotions conducive to crime like anger.

Much data from the emotions and justice literatures indicate that there is a
strong link between unjust treatment and anger (see Agnew 1992, 68-69;
Averill 1982, 1993; Berkowitz 1993; Hegtvedt and Cook forthcoming;
Hegtvedt and Markovsky 1995; Mikula 1986; Mikula, Petri, and Tanzer
1990; Tedeschi and Felson 1994; Tedeschi and Nesler 1993; Tyler 1994;
Tyler et al. 1997). And limited data suggest that anger increases the likeli-
hood of crime, particularly violent crime (Agnew 1985; Aseltine et al. 2000;
Berkowitz 1993; Brezina 1998; Mazerolle et al. 2000; Mazerolle and Piquero
1998; Piquero and Sealock 2000; Tedeschi and Felson 1994; Tyler et al.
1997). Anger fosters crime because it disrupts cognitive processes in ways
that impede noncriminal coping; for example, it leads individuals to disre-
gard information that may help resolve the situation, and it reduces the ability
to clearly express grievances. Anger also reduces the actual and perceived
costs of crime; for example, angry individuals are less likely to feel guilt for
their criminal behavior because they believe that the injustice they suffered
justifies crime. Finally, anger energizes the individual for action, creates a
sense of power or control, and creates a desire for revenge or retributionall
of which lead individuals to view crime in a more favorable light (see Agnew


1992; Averill 1982, 1993; Cloward and Ohlin 1960; Gottfredson and Hirschi
1990; Tedeschi and Felson 1994; Tedeschi and Nesler 1993; see Tyler et al.
1997 on retributive justice).

Measuring injustice. There are several ways to measure the perceived
injustice of particular strains. The perceived injustice of objective strains can
be estimated by (1) researchers, with such researchers drawing on the justice
and attributions literature (see below) and their knowledge of the group being
examined; (2) a panel of judges familiar with the group being examined, with
such judges being asked to estimate the likelihood that various strains will be
seen as unjust by group members; and/or (3) a representative sample of group
members, with such members being asked to rate the injustice of various
strains (see Mikula 1993; Mikula et al. 1990). The ratings of judges and
group members can be averaged. It is best to provide judges and group mem-
bers with moderately specific descriptions of the strains being rated because
the specific features of the strain can have a large impact on ratings of injus-
tice (see below). For example, instead of asking individuals to rate the injus-
tice of a close friend dying, it is better to ask them to rate the injustice of a
close friend being shot to death by a rival gang. Data suggest that raters tend
to underestimate the extent to which victims perceive the strains they experi-
ence as unjust (see Mikula 1986), so these measurement strategies will likely
provide conservative estimates of perceived injustice.

The perceived injustice of subjective strains can be estimated by asking
victims to rate the injustice of the strains they have experienced. Such ratings
will reflect both the characteristics of the strains and the characteristics of the
victims. Most notably, victims with attributional biases of the type described
by Dodge and Schwartz (1997) will be more likely to rate given strains as
unjust. Studies focusing on subjective strains should therefore control for rel-
evant individual characteristics when examining the effect of the perceived
injustice of strain on crime (see Herbert and Cohen 1996; Turner and
Wheaton 1995).2

Factors influencing perceptions of injustice. It is important for GST to
describe why some strains are more likely to be perceived as unjust than oth-
ers. This allows researchers to better explain individual and group differences
in perceptions of injustice, better predict whether given strains will be seen as
unjust, and better develop policies that address perceptions of injustice. Sev-
eral literatures devote much attention to the factors influencing perceptions
of injustice, with the justice and attributions literature being most relevant
(for overviews, see Crittenden 1983, 1989; Hegtvedt and Cook forthcoming;
Hegtvedt and Markovsky 1995; Mikula 1986, 1993; Tedeschi and Felson
1994; Tedeschi and Nesler 1993; Tyler 1990; Tyler et al. 1997).


These literatures suggest that a strainful event or condition is most likely
to be seen as unjust when individuals believe that it involves the voluntary
and intentional violation of a relevant justice norm. This belief is influenced
by a range of individual characteristics, most of which are described in the
justice and attributions literature and by the nature of the strainful event or
condition. Most strainful events and conditions involve a perpetrator who
does something to a victim in a particular setting or collection of settings. The
likelihood that a strainful event will be seen as unjust partly depends on the
characteristics of the perpetrator and victim, what the perpetrator does to the
victim, what the victim does to the perpetrator, the relationship between
the perpetrator and victim, and the setting(s) in which the strain occurs. Per-
ceptions of injustice are also influenced by the interpretation of the event/
condition provided by others, especially trusted others, and by (sub)cultural
beliefs associated with the event/condition. The contribution of these factors
is described below, with the central point being that some strainful events and
conditions are more likely than others to be perceived as unjustholding
individual characteristics constant.

Voluntary/intentional. Strainful events and conditions are most likely to
be attributed to the voluntary, intentional behavior of others when the follow-
ing occurs:

1. There is good evidence that the victims strain was in large measure caused by
the behavior of others (as opposed to being caused by the victims own behav-
ior, bad luck or chance, natural/impersonal forces, or forces of uncertain ori-
gin). Such evidence includes the following: A perpetrator directly inflicts the
strain on the victim (e.g., punches or insults the victim), a perpetrator is identi-
fied by trusted others, and/or (sub)cultural beliefs attribute the victims strain
to the behavior of others.

2. There is good evidence that the perpetrator voluntarily intended to inflict the
strain (i.e., freely chose to treat the victim in a way that they knew would proba-
bly be disliked). Conversely, there is little evidence that the behavior of the per-
petrator was the result of constraint, reasonable accident, or reasonable igno-
rance. Such evidence includes the following:

Behavior of the perpetrator. The perpetrator states his or her intention to inflict
strain, as sometimes happens in cases involving physical and verbal assault.
The perpetrator devotes much effort to or incurs high costs in inflicting the
strain. The perpetrator violates normative expectations in inflicting strain.
The perpetrator does not excuse, apologize for, or express remorse over the
harm he or she has caused. Conversely, the perpetrator expresses pleasure
or pride over his behavior (see Averill 1993; Tedeschi and Felson 1994;
Tedeschi and Nesler 1993).


Severity of harm. Attributions of intent are more likely the greater the actual or
intended harm to the victim (see Tedeschi and Felson 1994; Tedeschi and
Nesler 1993).

Characteristics of the perpetrator and the relationship between the perpetrator
and victim. The perpetrator has the personal and social resources to volun-
tarily and intentionally inflict the strain (e.g., has sufficient power, is aware
of the harmful consequences of his or her


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