DOI: 10.12924/pag2013.01020104 |Publication Date: 10 July 2013

Political Limits to the Processing of Policy Problems

Peter J. May 1, * , Ashley E. Jochim 2 and Barry Pump 3
1 Center for American Politics and Public Policy, Department of Political Science, University of Washington, USA
2 Center for Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington, USA
3 Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, USA
* Corresponding author
Abstract: This contribution addresses political limits to the processing of policy problems in the United States. Our foci are the forces that limit policymakers' attention to different aspects of problems and how this affects the prospects for problem resolution. We theorize about three sets of forces: interest engagement, linkages among relevant institutions for policymaking, and partisan conflict. We show how the interplay of these forces limits efforts to address complex problems. Based on secondary accounts, we consider these underlying dynamics for ten complex problems. These include the thorny problems of the financial crisis, climate change, and health care; the persistent problems of K-12 education, drug abuse, and food safety; and the looming problems associated with critical infrastructure, the obesity epidemic, ocean health, and terrorism and extreme events. From these accounts we identify different patterns that we label fractured, allied, bureaucratic, and anemic policymaking.

Keywords: complex problems; policy processes; policymaking; problem attention


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