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Policy‐Elite Perceptions and Social Movement Success: Understanding Variations in Group Inclusion in Affirmative Action1

University of California, San Diego

Using historical analysis of the inclusiveness of Labor Department affirmative action regulations for African‐Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, Latinos, women, and white ethnics, this article shows that understanding variations in social movement success requires understanding policy‐elite perceptions of the meanings of social movements and the groups they represent. Variation in perceived meanings along dimensions of definition, morality, or threat helps explain the speed of group inclusion, the amount of mobilization needed, and possiblity for failure. Ethnoracial minorities benefited from perceptions of definitional and moral similarity to blacks, but elites perceived women as different definitionally and white ethnics as different definitionally and morally. Policy‐elite perceptions create obstacles for some groups, forcing them to struggle longer and harder for the same policy outcome.