Current Event Analysis
Explore trends concerning an individually selected area of policy and provide context on the public policy theory/theories at play. You will answer the following question: How has congressional agenda changed over time in regards to your selected policy topic?
To start, visit: http://www.comparativeagendas.net/ and select a policy issue from the drop down menu. Then determine the type of congressional action and time period you are interested in exploring. Now pull the data. For the purposes of this project, you’ll need to pull data from at least two different time periods to show any shifts in trends/attention.
Next analyze your findings through a 3-4 page paper (excluding cover page and references). You’ll want to cover the following questions:
What is the history of this policy?
What does the data say about the congressional focus of this issue?
What driving forces/actors would have had an impact on the congressional attention on this issue?
Were there other events taking place that would explain a low in congressional attention on this issue?
What theory/theories from our text could explain the history or trends of the issue? What contexts are applicable here?
Please include your chart in your essay.
Make sure to include sources from:
Kraft, Michael and Scott Furlong. (2015) Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives. Sage Press.
The Elite Theory, championed by Thomas Dye, envisions public policy being influenced more by the society’s elite class of people than by the general public. These elites consist of wealthy, famous, and highly-educated people. They are often seen on TV or the Internet, and in exclusive conferences, seminars, and gatherings. Because the general public does not have the time or inclination to become fluent on various aspects of political issues, many take their cues from the elites. As well, elites also have better access to elected officials to influence their voting than the general public does.
The Group Theory, championed by Baumgartner and Leech, views policy as the product of a struggle between interest groups. An interest group is an organization that pressures elected officials to enact legislation favorable to its causes. An interest group is an organization of people that have a common interest. Many people organize according to their profession, business, corporation, or hobby. Sometimes interest groups join up to support an issue (when it suits them) to as a way to provide more resources and leverage. This is referred to as advocacy coalitions.
The Institutional Theory, championed by Richard Scott, focuses on structure, roles, powers and rules of government in determining policy. Organization structures and rules often influence how policy actors vote on issues. There are many kinds of organizations that influence policy making, such as political parties, local, state, and federal governments, foreign governments, and even voluntary organizations.
Rational Choice Theory
The Rationale Choice Theory, championed by Gary Becker, focuses heavily on economics and mathematical modeling. The basic premise of rational choice theory is that social behavior results from the behavior of individual actors, each of whom is making individual decisions. Rational choice theory, then, assumes that an individual has individual preferences among the available alternatives. The rational agent is assumed to take account of available information, probabilities of events, and potential costs and benefits in determining preferences, and to act consistently in choosing the best course of action.
Political Systems Theory
Political Systems Theory, championed by David Easton, focuses on the broader response of the political system to demands from individuals and groups (e.g., public opinion and interest groups). It is more comprehensive than the other theories. It emphasizes the larger social, economic, and cultural contexts in which policy choices are made. It analyzes the interrelationships of political institutions and policy actors. As part of this theory, Easton proposed a policy-making process to include input, conversion, output, feedback, and environment. This process leads us to the various steps of policy making.
Steps of Policy Making
Moving on from theory to practice, the policy process model looks at the various stages of the policy process and the roles and relationships of policy actors within each stage. This model is the logical sequence of activities regarding any new public policy. There are six basic stages of the public policy process.
The first stage is issue identification. There are public problems everywhere around the country. However, policy-makers only know about those that are brought to their attention. This is most often done by interest groups, lobbyists, constituent contact to their offices, and the media (ie, TV and radio). However, the media has the biggest impact comes from regarding the identification of a public problem. The key factor is that whoever brings a problem to the attention of a policy-maker has the unique opportunity to frame the issue towards a defined outcome. How the issue is portrayed, the language used, and the context it is couched in can make all the difference in how the solution is crafted. Once an issue is identified and defined, it is hard to change it.
The second stage in the public policy process is agenda setting. This is probably the most confusing stage for students, though it is perhaps the easiest to comprehend. At the national level, Congress physically cannot deal with the most of the public problems around the country. As such, those that are brought to members of Congress and formulated into a bill become part of the national agenda. Once bills are voted out of committee for a floor vote, they need to be prioritized according to national importance. While interest groups and lobbyists usually have the most impact on this stage, a lot of it comes simply from the media or Internet.
The third stage of the process is policy formulation. This is the development of proposed courses of action to resolve the issue. It entails designing and drafting policy, keeping in mind goals and strategies, costs and benefits, social and political acceptability, and likely effectiveness. The people involved in this stage are the bureaucratic experts, think tank scholars, and interest group specialists.
The fourth stage is policy adoption. At the national level, this is when Congress passes a bill and sends it to the president for signature. With the right media and marketing campaign, national laws can implement effective and legitimate policies.
The fifth stage is policy implementation. In many cases, policies are implemented differently than was originally intended by lawmakers. This happens because laws are enacted with ambiguous language to allow for slight modifications to accommodate reality. At the national level, the executive branch departments and agencies implement most laws passed by Congress.
The sixth and final stage is policy evaluation. This is when an oversight group or organization inspection determines the effectiveness of a policy as intended by policy-makers. So, policies and programs are measured and assessed based on their effectiveness. If the policy is working as intended, no changes are required. However, if the program is not working effectively, then modifications would be in order. This could require that a new policy on the same issue be passed through the legislature. On the other hand, the original issue may have been resolved meaning that the policy should be terminated.