January 2013 Archives

Affordable Care Act


The Future of the Affordable Care Act (7:05)

After the Agenda is Set


A reminder of the Policy Process Model.

Here is more information on the steps after agenda setting (to be continued next week).

Policy Formulation

Policy formulation is the development of proposed courses of action to help resolve a public problem.

Policy alternatives are studied and advocated as part of the policy stream and evaluated against the prevailing standards for policy acceptance (which include economic cost, social and political acceptability, and likely effectiveness in addressing the problem).

In most policy areas the appointed and career officials in a bureaucracy are among the most experienced and knowledgeable policy actors.They have the technical information needed to develop policy and the political knowledge that comes from working in the policy arena. However, while their knowledge can be enormously valuable in formulating new policy approaches, current officials who are strongly wedded to traditional approaches may be concerned about the implications of new policies for their offices, resources, and careers.

Interest groups are also active contributors to policy formulation. They have a great deal of information at their disposal, and they attempt to shape policy to serve their own economic or political needs.

Policy Legitimation

Policy legitimation is the giving of legal force to decisions, or authorizing or justifying policy action.

It may come from a majority vote in a legislature or a formal executive, bureaucratic, or judicial decision (Jones 1984).

From some perspectives, the process of legitimation includes the legitimacy of the action taken, that is, whether it is thought to be a proper exercise of government authority and its broad acceptability to the public and / or other policy actors. Policies that are adopted without such legitimation face serious hurdles. They may fail to command public support, affected interest groups may oppose them or even challenge them in court, and their implementation could be adversely affected.


  • Kraft, Michael E. and Scott R. Furlong, 2010. Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.
  • Jones, Charles O. 1984. An Introduction to the Study of Public Policy. 3rd ed. Monterey, Calif.: Brooks/Cole.

Policy Implementation


Successful Implementation

Once a policy is formulated and adopted, it must be implemented.

According to Charles Jones (1984), implementation is the "set of activities directed toward putting a program into effect."

Three activities are particularly important to successful implementation.

  • Organization: the establishment of resources, offices, and methods for administering a program
  • Interpretation: translating the program's language (plans, directives, and regulatory requirements) into language that those affected can understand
  • Application: the "routine provision of services, payments, or other agreed upon program objectives or instruments" (pg. 166)

Policy implementation is a crucial stage of the policy progress because it is where one sees actual government intervention and real consequences for society (Mazmanian and Sabatier 1983; Goggin et al. 1990).

Executive Branch Agencies

Implement most public policies within the US.

The traditional view was that they were nonpolitical administrators who simply carried out the will of the legislature, with no say in the policy beyond its execution. This viewpoint, however, is unrealistic and fails to take into consideration the influence agencies have in formulating policy and the discretion they have in its implementation. Because of this discretion, agency decisions often reflect the political philosophy and preferences of the chief executive who appointed the agency's administrators.

Chief executives try to place in the top agency jobs people who agree with them on matters such as interpreting the law, deciding on agency priorities, and choosing which policy tools to use.

At times, the executive's enthusiasm for the law, or lack thereof, becomes apparent when it comes time to write the rules. When the Federal Election Commission began to set standards for implementing the controversial campaign finance reform law of 2002, the law's sponsors in Congress complained that the rules "would severely undermine the new law" (Mitchell 2002).



Policy and Program Evaluation

An assessment of whether policies and programs are working well.

In particular, analysts look for evidence that a program is achieving its stated goals and objectives. For example, did a welfare reform policy reduce the number of people on welfare? Do the programs have unanticipated consequences, particularly any that are viewed as harmful?

Of the many reasons governments engage in policy and program evaluation, costs may be among the most important. Government programs are usually expensive, and policymakers, who must be accountable to the voters, want to know if the results are worth the money. In addition to costs versus benefits, analysts have many other methods for evaluating policies, but as with policy formulation, legitimation, and implementation, evaluation is not merely about technical studies of program results. It also involves political judgments about a program's worth. In this sense, programs are continually, if often informally, evaluated by members of Congress, interest groups, think tanks, and others.

Policy Change

The modification of policy goals, the means used to achieve them, or both. The change could be minor, moderate, or extensive.

Most often a policy or program undergoes incremental change in an attempt to make it more effective or to meet the objectives of its main constituencies and other policy actors. Termination of a policy or program is one of many kinds of changes that might be considered, although it is rare.

All public policies can be considered to be experiments in which government and the public learn what works well and what does not. In some cases, what is thought to be a resolution of a problem though policy adoption at one point is later evaluated and judged to be unacceptable. Interested parties then advocate changes. Another round of the policy cycle begins as the newly recognized needs reach the political agenda and a different policy is formulated and adopted.


Eric Patashnik - Keynote Address, Parts 1, 2, 5



  • Goggin, Malcolm L, Ann O'M. Bowman, James P. Lester, and Laurence J. O'Toole Jr. 1990. Implementation Theory and Practice: Toward a Third Generation. Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman/Little, Brown.
  • Jones, Charles O. 1984. An Introduction to the Study of Public Policy. 3rd ed. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  • Kraft, Michael E. and Scott R. Furlong. 2010. Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives. 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.
  • Mazmanian, Daniel A., and Paul A. Sabatier. 1983. Implementation and Public Policy. Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman/Little, Brown.
  • Mitchell, Alison. May 2002. "Law's Sponsors Fault Draft of Campaign Finance Rules." New York Times, A16.

Discussion Questions - Public Opinion

  • Are there particular issues or policy areas where public opinion is, or should be, relevant and appropriate to the policy making process?
  • Are polls a good way to measure public opinion? How else could the national mood be measured?

In-Class Slides - January 29


You will find the slides that I presented today in class here: January 29



At the extreme end of increasing state power, some believe states should have the right to have complete authority by forming their own nation.

READ: 24% Say States Have Right to Secede - Rasmussen Reports™

Dixie Matters: Secession (10:14)



State Powers

Tenth jpg


The Evolution of Federal-State Relations

Dual Federalism

The relationship between national and state governments in policy making has evolved since the nation's founding. In the late 18th century, the functions or responsibilities of each level of government were quite distinct. State governments were responsible for education and transportation policies, for example. The national government limited itself to larger issues such as national defense and international trade. Little integration of the two levels of government existed, a state of affairs often referred to as dual federalism. This persisted throughout the 19th century, in part because the federal government's activities remained fairly limited.

Cooperative Federalism

In the 20th century, federal-state relations changed significantly, especially in response to the Great Depression. President Roosevelt's New Deal (an expansive economic recovery program) began to break down the barriers between national and state policy. Dual federalism evolved into cooperative federalism, as collaboration on policy making increased. Many large-scale federal programs begun in the 1960s and 1970s, another period of government growth, relied on such a model. The federal clean air and clean water programs, for example, involved a mix of national and state responsibilities, with the national government setting environmental protection standards and the states carrying out most implementation actions.

Block Grants

Much of the cooperation that occurred between the national and state governments was a result of additional monies being provided to the states through block grants and categorical grants. Block grants are transfers of federal dollars to the states where the states have substantial discretion in how to spend the money to meet their citizens' needs. Categorical grants also involved the transfer of federal dollars to the states, but the funding must be used for specific purposes. During the 1970s and 1980s critics of increasing federal power urged the states to retake some of their policy-making responsibilities. President Nixon's "new federalism" initiatives in the early 1970s were designed to move away from categorical grants and toward block grants to give the states more discretion in how they used the funds. States were grateful for the federal funds but also concerned about the expectations that such funding carried.


The devolution of policy to states continued under President Reagan. His conservative philosophy and political rhetoric gave a significant boost to the trend to restore greater authority to the states. Although many states welcomed this change, they also worried about the subsequent decrease in federal dollars. In addition, the national government had discovered a new way to enact popular policies without paying for them: it gave implementation responsibilities to the states. Federal policymakers received political credit for the new programs without spending federal tax dollars. These unfunded mandates - federal requirements placed upon the state governments without funds for implementation - added stress to the relationship between the national and state governments.

Unfunded Mandates

In 1995 Congress enacted the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act to limit future financial impacts on the states, but conflict over policy making in a federal system did not vanish. The legislation was not implemented very effectively; Congress continued to approve new mandates for which insufficient money was made available. Additionally, the act did not remove the extensive mandates for state action that were already in place. Continued conflict between the federal government and the states could be seen in 2001 over the No Child Left Behind program. Few questioned the goal of improving the quality of the nations' schools, but many had doubts about imposing federal standards in a policy area that has traditionally been a state responsibility.

Federal Power: Presidents and the Constitution (6:08)


State Variation in Policy Capacity

State Variation

The states differ in fundamental ways such as physical size, population, extent of industrialization, and affluence. Moreover, each state and region has a distinctive history and culture that shapes policy actions. What may work well and be acceptable to residents of Minnesota or Wisconsin might not be appropriate or feasible in Texas or Mississippi. There is nothing inherently negative about policy variation among the states.Throughout the nation's history Americans have celebrated the rich diversity of state cultures and policy preferences. However, when a state's policies are so different from others that its residents may be deprived of essential human needs or federally protected rights, the federal government is likely to intervene.

READ: Full- and Part-Time Legislatures

CNN Ready or Not State Government Special Featuring Ken Poston (9:00)


Arguments Against More Decentralization

Policy performance varies from state to state, and citizens may suffer the consequences. For example, some states fail to fully test drinking water or to enforce clean air and clean water laws, even though they are violating federal laws (Rabe 2010). States with more money and greater expertise than others can design better programs and offer more services to their citizens. Business and industry interest groups may exert more influence at the state than at the national level because of the states' eagerness to attract businesses and jobs. Only the federal government has sufficient resources to support policy activities such as scientific research for environmental protection and health care. Many public programs, such as air and water pollution, cross state boundaries, suggesting that a higher level of government is needed to address them adequately.

Arguments For Increasing State Authority

Those who favor increasing state authority tend to believe that the states are capable of handling additional responsibilities and are better equipped than the federal government at defining their citizens' needs. For some, the states are the "new heroes" of American federalism, with greater capacity for policy innovation and closer ties to citizens than the national government.

Studies show that over the past several decades state legislatures and bureaucracies have become more skilled than they were before at dealing with policy issues (Hedge 1998). This comes from growth in professional staffs and expertise, including the ability to appraise policy needs and evaluate programs with greater accuracy. Depending on its economic conditions, a state could also act on public problems because it may have sufficient funds to do so, from transfer of federal dollars and state taxation (Bowman and Kearney 2005).

READ: Paul and Romney Lead 2012 GOP Field in Strongest Anti-Washington Rhetoric

Fred on Federalism (1:51)


Additional Resources

REFER: McGraw Hill Chapter



  • Kraft, Michael E. and Scott R. Furlong, 2010. Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.
  • Bowman, Ann O'M., and Richard C. Kearney. 2005. State and Local Governments. 6th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Hedge, David M. 1998. Governance and the Changing American States. Boulder: Westview Press.
  • Pressman, Jeffrey L., and Aaron Wildavsky. 1979. Implementation. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Rabe, Barry G. 2010. "Racing to the Top, the Bottom, or the Middle of the Pack? The Evolving State Government Role in Environmental Protection." In Environmental Policy 7th ed. Edited by Norman J. Vig and Michael E. Kraft. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission


Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast.

REFER: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: SCOTUSblog

Former Supreme Court Justice Souter on Citizens United Decision and Freedom of Speech (8:24)

Justice Scalia on Citizens United (2:37)

Inequality and Interest Groups



READ: A Giant Statistical Round-Up of the Income Inequality Crisis in 16 Charts

Larry Bartels on Income Inequality and Social Policy (21:11)


Interest Groups

Public Interest vs. Special Interest

Organized interest groups are a major influence on public policy, and by most measures their numbers and activities have soared since the 1960s (Berry 1997). There are two types of interest groups.

Public Interest Groups:

  • Tend to lobby for activities they believe will benefit the entire population
  • Examples: The Sierra Club, the National Rifle Association, the Christian Coalition, Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Special Interest Groups

  • Support actions that tend to benefit only members of their organization
  • Examples: Groups whose members have a direct economic stake in public policy, such as organized labor, business groups, and professional associations.


Most groups are involved lobbying of some nature. While the unique number of lobbyists has declined from its high point in the mid 00s, the amount of lobby spending has more than doubled since 1998.

REFER: Lobbying Database | OpenSecrets

Some of the Audiences for Lobbyists

The Public: Groups provide information and perspectives on public policy issues. They issue studies, reports, and news releases. They produce advertisements for tv, radio, newspapers and Web pages.

The Legislature: Groups testify in legislative committee hearings. They meet with individual members or their staffs. They urge their members and supporters to write or call legislators.

Executive Branch Agencies: Groups submit studies and recommendations during formal public comment periods on proposed regulations. They frequently and informally communicate with agency officials.

CBS Sunday Morning on Lobbying, ft. Lanny Davis (9:55)

Other Methods of Lobbying

Electioneering: Many groups endorse candidates, contribute money and other resources to their campaigns, and sponsor issue advocacy advertisements that are intended to affect voter opinion on the issues, and the groups hope, their votes.These efforts are aimed at getting people who are sympathetic to the particular group's positions elected and defeating those who oppose its positions.

Litigation: They may file a suit against an agency because of a ruling or regulation and try to get the courts to change the policy. In the late 1990s, for example, the American Trucking Association sued the EPA over its proposed higher standards for ozone and particulate matter, which the association charged would adversely affect the trucking industry. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and the justices affirmed the EPA's regulations.

Steve Ansolabehere on Interest Groups and Money in Politics (16:30)



  • Berry, Jeffrey M. 1997. The Interest Group Society 3rd ed. New York: Longman.
  • Kraft, Michael E. and Scott R. Furlong, 2010. Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.
  • Patterson, Thomas E. 2009. The American Democracy. 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Discussion Questions - Adolino and Blake


For several political dynamics (e.g. party systems, electoral systems, executive-legislative relations, intergovernmental relations), Adolino and Blake write about the different systems that have developed in industrialized countries.

  • Two-party vs. Multiparty
  • Single Member District Plurality (SMDP) vs. Proportional Representation
  • Presidential vs. Parliamentary
  • Unitary vs. Federal

Choosing one or more of the pairings above, what are some of the pros and cons of each system? Which do you think is better (based on whatever criteria you choose)? If it's not already present in the U.S., is reform possible? Why or why not?

Separation of Powers and Gridlock


Divided Power

The separate branches of American government are interlocked in such a way that an elaborate system of checks and balances is created. No institution can act decisively without the support or acquiescence of the others.

Separation of Powers.jpeg


Political Gridlock: Why it's Good (7:23)

Political Gridlock: why it's good from Conservative Women on Vimeo.


Formal Institutions of Government

Executive Branch: Presidential Powers

The Constitution has little to say about presidential power. Only one-third of Article II is devoted to formal presidential powers. The powers that are granted can be classified in two ways. First, they gave the president some very specific powers in clear language. Second, they granted some broad powers which are written in vague language and subject to individual interpretation.

Veto: The framers saw the veto as a bulwark of executive independence, a basic building block in their efforts to separate and check power. Alexander Hamilton made this position clear in The Federalist, no. 73: "The primary inducement to conferring [the veto] power upon the executive is to enable him to defend himself; the second one is to increase the chances...against the passing of bad laws, through haste, inadvertence, or design."

READ:Obama the Most Veto-Shy President Since James Garfield

Appointment power: Affects the president's ability to staff the executive branch with trusted allies who will help promote his policies. Perhaps the single most important appointment presidents can make is a nomination to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. On average, a president names only two justices during any term of office. Nevertheless, since the Court is usually split ideologically, even one or two appointments can affect the outcome of important cases.

Treaties: The Constitution gives presidents the power to negotiate treaties with other nations, with the advice and consent of Congress. Treaties have declined as a potential congressional check on presidential power because presidents have increasingly turned to a less formal means for conducting foreign affairs. Presidents may conclude an executive agreement (a diplomatic contract negotiated with other counties) on any subject within their constitutional authority as long as the agreement is not inconsistent with legislation enacted by Congress.

Executive privilege: The power to withhold information on the ground that to release such information would affect either national security or the president's ability to discharge his official duties. The Constitution does not mention executive privilege. The first discussion of privilege occurred in 1792 when President Washington denied a request from Congress to turn over all original letters and correspondence related to General Arthur St. Clair's mission that led to an Indian massacre of troops.

The Constitution gives the president additional specific powers, such as the right to grant pardons, the right to convene Congress in extraordinary circumstances, and the power to be commander in chief of the armed forces.

Ken Mayer on the Presidency and Executive Orders (20:03)


Legislative Branch: The Rules of Congress

The formal rules of Congress can be found in the Constitution, in the standing rules of each house, and in Thomas Jefferson's Manual of Parliamentary Practice and Precedent.

The House Rules Committee plays a key role. Except for revenue, budget, and appropriations bills, which go directly to the House floor, bills are referred to the Rules Committee. The rules determine which bills will be discussed, how long the debate will last, and which amendments will be allowed. Rules can be Open, Closed, or Restrictive (now the most commonly used, limits amendments to certain parts of a bill and dictates which members can offer them).

Because the Senate is smaller and more decentralized, its rules for bringing a matter to the floor are much more relaxed. There is no Rules Committee. The majority leader has the formal power to do the scheduling, but informal agreements are usually reached with the minority leader.

There are few restrictions on debate in the Senate; it is possible to derail a bill by means of a filibuster. This technique allows a senator to speak against a bill, or just talk about anything at all, to prevent the Senate from moving forward with its business. He or she may yield to another like-minded senator, and the marathon debate can continue for hours or even days. In 1917, the Senate adopted a procedure known as cloture, through which senators can vote to limit debate and stop a filibuster. Originally cloture required approval of two-thirds of the senators present and voting, but when such a vote proved too difficult to achieve, the required majority was reduced to three-fifths of the members, or 60 votes.

READ: Senate Action on Cloture Motions

READ: How The Senate Filibuster Has Weakened Over Time

In addition to its formal rules, Congress has informal, unwritten rules that facilitate its day-to-day operations.

Seniority: A member's rank depends on how long he or she has served. In the past the only way to become committee chair was to accumulate the most years of continuous service on that committee. However, political loyalty may be replacing seniority in the House.

Specialization and Reciprocity: Legislators are expected to develop a certain expertise on one or more issues. Members who lack expertise in a particular policy area defer to specialists with more knowledge, with the understanding that the favor will be reciprocal. When reciprocity is applied to votes on key measures the result is called logrolling, which helps legislators cooperate effectively. A traditional form of the logrolling norm is pork-barrel legislation - special interest spending for members' districts or states.


Judicial Branch: Independence of the Judiciary

The framers were aware of the importance of the court's independence and placed several provisions in the Constitution to keep the Supreme Court free of pressures from the people, Congress, and the president.

Justices are appointed not elected; thus, they are not beholden to voters. The power to appoint justices is shared by the president and the Senate; thus, the Court is not beholden to any one person or political party. The justices are guaranteed their position for life, as long as they exhibit "good Behaviour." Even in cases of bad behavior, justices can be impeached only for "High Crimes and Misdemeanors," thus ensuring that the Court cannot be manipulated by the political branches.The Constitution specifies that justices' salaries "shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office," meaning that Congress cannot lower the Court's salary to punish it for its rulings.

Michael McCann on the Impact of Litigation and Courts on American Politics (19:02)



  • Berman, Larry, and Bruce Allen Murphy. 2001. Approaching Democracy. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Patterson, Thomas E. 2009. The American Democracy. 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Discussion Questions - Three R's


How has social media transformed political writing or public policy? Has the importance of writing changed? How has Twitter, specifically, bettered or worsened writing? What role do you believe social media plays in political careers today?

Parties and the Vote


Political Parties and the Vote

Election after election, Republican and Democratic candidates reap the vote of their party's identifiers. It is relatively rare, in congressional races as well as in the presidential race, for a party nominee to get less than 80 percent of the partisan vote.

"Independents" are less independent than might be assumed. About a third of Americans say they are independents, but about 2/3 say they lean toward one of the parties. Most independents vote in the direction they lean. In the 1970s the number of true independents was larger, and there was a sharp rise in the number of voters who cast a split ticket. Some analysts described this development as a sign of dealignment - a weakening of partisanship.

READ: Political Independents: The Future of Politics?

John Sides on Party Identification and Elections (20:25)


Mandatory Voting

READ: The U.S. Should Require All Citizens to Vote

How does compulsory voting affect the election equation? (6:50)



  • Berman, Larry, and Bruce Allen Murphy. 2001. Approaching Democracy. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Patterson, Thomas E. 2009. The American Democracy. 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Polarization in Congress


READ: Republican Women 2010 U.S. House Voting Record Most Conservative in History

Polarization declined in both chambers from roughly the beginning of the 20th Century until World War II. It was then fairly stable until the late 1970s and has been increasing steadily over the past 25 years. Congresses 100-112 mark an acceleration of the trend (especially in the House). Note, however, that the acceleration is smooth and does not show a particular jump in polarization induced by the large Republican freshman class elected in 1994. Polarization in the House and Senate is now at the highest level since the end of Reconstruction (Voteview.com).


The high level of polarization was primarily a result of Republicans being more polarized than ever before:


Sean Theriault on Party Polarization in Congress (12:48)

Public Opinion


The Influence of Public Opinion on Policy

Some observers claim that officials are relatively insensitive to public opinion and so entrenched in their positions that they pay little attention to what ordinary citizens think. While this assessment undoubtedly applies to some officials and some issues, a comprehensive study conducted on the relationship between public opinion and policy concluded that public opinion does in fact sway government. Page and Shapiro's (1983) study examined 50 years of polls and policy decisions and found that when public opinion on an issue changed, policy usually changed in the direction of the change in public opinion. This pattern was particularly evident in the case of major issues. Based on this evidence, the study's authors concluded: "When Americans' policy preferences shift, it is likely that congruent changes in policy will follow."

Jim Stimson on Public Opinion (16:26)


Measuring Public Opinion

Some methods of measuring public opinion are election returns, letters to the editor in newspapers, email messages to elected officials, and the size of crowds at mass demonstrations. However, there are limitations. Elections offer only a yes no choice between candidates, and different voters choose the same candidate for different reasons. In addition, active groups can be unrepresentative of the population as a whole. Fewer than 1% of Americans participate each year in a mass demonstration, and fewer than 10% write to the president or a member of Congress. Studies have found that the opinions of letter writers and demonstrators are more extreme than those of most citizens.

Public Opinion Polls

Polls provide a more systematic method of estimating public sentiment. A sample of people are interviewed in order to estimate the opinions of a whole population. If a sufficient number of individuals are chosen at random, their views will tend to be representative of those held by the population.

Random selection is the key to scientific polling. The accuracy of a poll is expressed in terms of sampling error: the degree to which the sample estimates might differ from what the population actually thinks. The larger the sample, the smaller the sampling error, which is usually expressed as a plus or minus percentage. For example, a properly drawn sample of 1000 individuals has a sampling error of roughly plus or -3%.

REFER: Gallup Politics

REFER: PollingReport.com

Problems with Polls

Only rarely does a pollster have a list of all individuals in a population, so they sample based on telephone numbers. Pollsters are increasingly worried about the future of telephone polling because (1) some households do not have phones, (2) the percentage who refuse to participate has increased sharply, and (3) the use of cell phones, which are not included in most computer-based telephone sampling, has risen significantly.

The accuracy of polling is diminished when respondents are asked about an issue they have not considered. In such instances, interviewees usually offer a response in order not to appear uninformed or uninterested. On sensitive topics, some interviewees will give what they regard as the socially correct response rather than what they actually think. The way in which an issue is framed, whether it is accompanied by relevant facts, the ordering in which the alternatives are presented, and the precise alternatives offered can all affect people's responses.

READ: Less than 1% of Voting Eligible Population Polled in Battleground States This Cycle


  • Anderson, James E. 2006. Public Policymaking. 6th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Berman, Larry, and Bruce Allen Murphy. 2001. Approaching Democracy. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Kraft, Michael E. and Scott R. Furlong, 2010. Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.
  • Page, Benjamin I., and Robert Y. Shapiro. 1983. "Effects of Public Opinion on Policy," American Political Science Review 77.
  • Patterson, Thomas E. 2009. The American Democracy. 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Elite Theory


Emphasizes how the values and preferences of governing elites, which differ from those of the public at large, affect public policy development. The primary assumption is that the values and preferences of the general public are less influential than those of a smaller, unrepresentative group of people (elites).

Who are the Elites?

Economic elites: Foundations, wealthy people, corporate executives, investment bankers, professionals such as physicians and attorneys

Cultural elites: Celebrated actors, filmmakers, recording artists, or other media stars

Government & policy elites: Elected officials as well as other influential policy actors, such as scientists, and policy analysts

Domhoff: Ruling Class Cohesiveness (2:08)

Application of Elite Theory

A single power elite or establishment is seldom at the center of all policy decisions; different elites tend to dominate in different policy areas. However, by emphasizing the power of these groups, elite theory demonstrates that the U.S. policy making process may not be as democratic as many believe it to be.

For example, critics of President George W. Bush's energy and environmental policies were convinced that they were shaped with the interests of a corporate elite in mind, particularly those representing large manufacturing interests; oil and natural gas producers; electric power companies; and mining, timber, and similar interests (Kraft and Kamieniecki 2007).

Sub-governments / Issue Networks

Much policy making occurs in less formal settings or venues and involves policy actors within particular issue areas; these informal arrangements are known as sub-governments or issue networks (Heclo 1978; Lowi 1979). Iron triangles is another common term, referring to the supposed power of their three components: congressional subcommittees, an executive agency, and an outside economic interest group. Sub-governments usually operate under the radar of most citizens and are less likely than the more formal institutions to be influenced by citizen values or policy preferences.

Decision making about many programs and policies tends to be highly specialized. Because of the complexity of public problems and policies, and the often detailed knowledge required to understand them, specialization will likely continue to be the norm. Each group develops its own, distinctive channels of communication and terminology to discuss policy issues.

Historically, sub-governments have been exceptionally powerful in setting U.S. policy, particularly so in areas of limited interest to the general public (such as agricultural subsidies, mining and forestry, weapons procurement, and highway and dam construction). Today these groups are less autonomous and generally operate with more visibility and outside participation. Nevertheless, they are still important.

Domhoff: U.S. Ruling Class Opinion Management & Reagan's Keynesianism (3:48)



  • Berman, Larry, and Bruce Allen Murphy. 2001. Approaching Democracy. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Heclo, Hugh. 1978. "Issue Networks and the Executive Establishment." In The New American Political System. Edited by Anthony King. Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute.
  • Kraft, Michael E. and Scott R. Furlong, 2010. Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.
  • Kraft, Michael E. and Sheldon Kamieniecki, eds. 2007. Business and Environmental Policy: Corporate Interests in the American Political System. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Lowi, Theodore J. 1979. The End of Federalism. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton.
  • Patterson, Thomas E. 2009. The American Democracy. 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Defining Basic Concepts



Government refers to the institutions and political processes through which public policy choices are made. These institutions and processes represent the legal authority to govern or rule a group of people.

In the United States, the federal Constitution describes the government's institutions, which include Congress, the president, the various agencies of the executive branch, and the federal court system. Each is granted specific but overlapping legal authority to act under a system of separation of powers.

At state and local levels, parallel government institutions develop policy for citizens within their jurisdictions, guided by authority granted in state constitutions and in state and local statues and ordinances. The American system of governance adheres to the principle of federalism; in a federal system the national government shares authority with state and local governments.

Quite often national policies, such as those dealing with environmental protection, are implemented chiefly by the states through an elaborate system of intergovernmental relations in which the federal government grants legal authority to the states to carry out national policies. In other policy areas, such as education, crime control, and land-use regulation, state and local governments play the dominant role.

REFER: Our Government | The White House

REFER: Introduction to the U.S. System


Politics concerns the exercise of power in society or in specific decisions over public policy.

Politics can refer to the processes through which public policies are formulated and adopted, especially to the roles played by elected officials, organized interest groups, and political parties. This is the politics of policymaking.

Politics can also be thought of as how conflicts in society (such as those over rights to abortion services or immigration restrictions) are expressed and resolved in favor of one set of interests or social values or another. Politics in this way refers to the issue positions that different groups of people adopt and the actions they take to promote their values. Harold Lasswell (1958) put it this way: Politics is about "who gets what, when, and how."

In the United States and most other democracies, politics is also related to the electoral processes by which citizens select the policymakers who represent them. In this sense, politics concerns political parties and their issue agendas and the political ideologies, philosophies, and beliefs held by candidates for office, their supporters, and their campaign contributors.

How to Make a Bill a Law (2:27)

Public Policy

Public policy is what public officials within government, and by extension the citizens they represent, choose to do or not to do about public problems.

Public problems refer to conditions the public widely perceives to be unacceptable and therefore requiring intervention. Problems such as environmental degradation, threats to workplace safety, or insufficient access to health care services can be addressed through government action, private action, or a combination of the two. In any given case, the choice depends on how the public defines the problem and on prevailing societal attitudes about private action in relation to government's role.

The term policy refers in general to a purposive course of action that an individual or group consistently follows in dealing with a problem (Anderson 2006). In a more formal definition, a policy is a "standing decision characterized by behavioral consistency and repetitiveness on the part of both those who make it and those who abide by it" (Eulau and Prewitt 1973, 465). Whether in the public or private sector, policies also can be thought of as the instruments through which societies regulate themselves and attempt to channel human behavior in acceptable directions (Schneider and Ingram 1997).

REFER: Legislation | The White House



  • Berman and Murphy, Approaching Democracy, 3rd edition (2001)
  • Kraft and Furlong, Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives (2010)

Reading, Writing, and Research


Reading Comprehension

Each week will bring with it around 75 pages of reading. These will vary from dense, theoretical works to more empirical studies. Starting early, taking your time, and reading difficult pieces a second time will increase reading comprehension.

Reading Comprehension Strategies: Tips on Reading (2:20)

Student Writing Support

Student Writing Support (SWS) offers free writing instruction for all University of Minnesota students at all stages of the writing process. In face-to-face and online collaborative consultations, SWS consultants help students develop productive writing habits and revision strategies.

READ: Getting the most from Student Writing Support

WATCH: Student Writing Support. Everybody writes. We'll help you get better at it. (2:31)

Commenting on the Blog

READ: How to Write a Great Blog Comment

Evaluating Research

Key Questions to Ask When Reading a Social Science Article:

  • What makes the study important?
  • Do the findings make sense?
  • Who conducted the research and wrote the report?
  • Who published the report?
  • Did the researcher select an appropriate group for study?
  • If comparison groups are used, how similar are they?
  • What has changed since the information was collected?
  • Are the methods appropriate to the research purpose?
  • Does the study establish causation?
  • Is the time frame long enough to identify an impact?
  • Could the data be biased as a result of poor research design?
  • Are the results statistically significant?