How Politics and the Policymaking Process works?

How Politics and Policy making Process works?

Policy making involves a combination of processes. Although not always clear cut or easily distinguishable, political scientists have identified these processes for purposes of analysis.

They include the following:

Identifying policy problems: Publicized demands for government action can lead to identification of policy problems.

Formulating policy proposals: Policy proposals can be formulated through political channels by policy-planning organizations, interest groups, government bureaucracies, state legislatures, and the president and Congress.

Legitimizing public policy: Policy is legitimized as a result of the public statements or actions of government officials, both elected and appointed in all branches and at all levels. This includes executive orders, budgets, laws and appropriations, rules and regulations, and decisions and interpretations that have the effect of setting policy directions.

Implementing public policy: Policy is implemented through the activities of public bureaucracies and the expenditure of public funds.

Evaluating public policy: Policies are formally and informally evaluated by government agencies, by outside consultants, by interest groups, by the mass media, and by the public.

Although this stages or phases approach to policy making has been criticized for being too simplistic, insufficiently explicating that some phases may occur together, and not saying much about why policy turns out as it does,2 it does provide a way to discuss many of the ways policy is constructed, carried out, evaluated, and made again. All these activities include both attempts at rational problem solving and political conflict.

Identifying Policy Problems

Many factors influence the identification of policy problems. They include the methods of getting issues on the political agenda as well as keeping them off the agenda. Political ideology and special interests, the mass media, and public opinion all play roles in problem identification.

  • Agenda Setting

“Agenda setting,” that is, deciding what is to be decided, is the first critical step in the policymaking process. To get on the agenda, problems must come to policymakers’ attention. Some problems—even major problems are too “invisible” to make the agenda, while others such as healthcare, are already highly visible, because they affect us all. Other times, crises or “focusing events” (e.g., levees breaking in New Orleans) are needed to bring problems to light. Think of all the conditions that existed for many years that remained “nonissues,” that is, they were not identified as problems for governments’ consideration.

One striking example is the “separate but equal” doctrine that gave legitimacy to racial segregation by condoning the establishment of separate facilities for whites and blacks. Without political pressure, some conditions might worsen, but they would never be identified as public problems, they would never get on policymakers’ agenda, and governments would never be forced to decide what, if anything, to do about them. Influential individuals and ordinary citizens, organized interest groups, think tanks and policy planning organizations, political candidates, and officeholders all employ the tactics of agenda setting, usually through attempts to get the mass media to publicize the issue.

  • Non decisions

Preventing certain conditions in society from becoming policy issues is also an important political tactic. According to political scientists Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz:

Non-decision making is a means by which demands for change in the existing allocation of be benefits and privileges in the community can be suffocated before they are even voiced; or kept covert; or killed before they gain access to the relevant decision-making arena; or failing all these things, maimed or destroyed in the decision-implementing stage of the policy process. Nondecision making occurs when powerful individuals, groups, or organizations act to suppress an issue because they fear that if public attention is focused on it, their best interests may suffer. Nondecision making also occurs when political candidates, officeholders, or administrative officials anticipate that powerful individuals or groups will not favor a particular idea. They, therefore, do not pursue the idea because they don’t want to “rock the boat.” For more than 50 years, powerful medical lobbies successfully blocked serious consideration of initiatives that came to be known as Medicare and Medicaid. Powerful healthcare lobbies continue to try to block proposals for government sponsored national health insurance.

  • Political Ideology

Political ideology is a driving force in agenda setting. The New Political Dictionary defines a conservative as “a defender of the status quo”; “the more rigid conservative generally opposes virtually all government regulation of the economy . . . favors local and state action over federal action, and emphasizes fiscal responsibility, most notably in the form of balanced budgets.”5 Of course, not all conservatives are this rigid. Federal deficits have also ballooned under recent conservative Republican presidential administrations. A liberal can be defined as “one who believes in more government action to meet individual need.”6 Liberals often want the government to do much more to promote distributive justice, economic as well as social. Conservatives think that the government has already done too much in this regard, destroying individual initiative and promoting economic and other social problems. Many Americans fall somewhere in between the extremes of liberal and conservative, but it is often the most zealous individuals who organize and attempt to influence the political agenda. The Republican Party platform has become highly conservative, especially on social issues such as abortion and gay rights. The Democratic Party platform tends to be much more liberal than that of the Republicans, espousing issues such as abortion access and gay rights. Political ideology is not always pure. For example, some Republicans may favor their party’s ideology on spending and taxing matters, while they may be unhappy with the party’s stance on abortion and gay rights. Likewise, some Democrats wish to strengthen social programs while also being more cautious about government spending. Except for the most strident of ideologies, the lines between liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican can be difficult to draw.

Libertarians generally believe that governments should have very limited functions, primarily police and military protection. They are strong supporters of free market capitalism and believe that the government has no place in making laws about personal behavior—reproduction, homosexuality, and drug use—unless there is threat of harm to others.Centrists believe that political partisanship and polarization have prevented compromise that could result in more effective public policy. Centrists see themselves as encouraging moderation and compromise. These are some of the basic ideas of the political ideologies that frame conflict over social welfare policy in the United States. In subsequent chapters, we describe more of these ideas and also consider the welfare models of social democracies in which benefits such as childcare, healthcare, and job training are far more universal in nature than they are in the United States.

  • Special Interests

Special interest groups are a staple of the political landscape, and they do their best to influence the political agenda either directly or indirectly. Special interest groups may represent people based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, income, profession, or other factors. Many special interest groups are organized as nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations, which limits their ability to lobby or support political candidates, but they can educate on issues of concern to them. Groups from Mothers Against Drunk Driving to the Nature Conservancy do just that.

  • The Mass Media

Deciding what is “news” and who is “newsworthy” is a powerful political weapon. Some scholars find that the media exert substantial influence in deciding what problems will be given attention and what problems will be ignored. Television executives and producers and newspaper and magazine editors decide what people, organizations, and events will be given public attention. Without media coverage, many of the conditions or government programs affecting those who are poor or other groups or about alternative policies or programs would not likely become objects of political discussion, nor would government officials likely consider them important, even if they knew about them. Media attention creates issues and personalities. Media inattention can doom issues and personalities to obscurity. The media is key in directing attention to issues, although the consensus is that they do not change people’s minds on issues as much as they influence individuals who have not yet formed an opinion. Perhaps the real danger today is that we are overwhelmed with the number of issues that have caught the media’s attention and the number of groups and organizations competing for attention to the issues they deem important. Government inaction and public indifference may result when people feel that there are too many problems to consider or that problems continue to grow even when they try to intervene.

  • Public Opinion

Even in a democracy, public opinion may not determine public policy, but politicians are mindful of what their constituents—particularly their powerful constituents—think. Relatively few Americans take time to make their views known to their elected officials, but doing so might be more effective than many Americans realize.The Gallup Poll and other polling organizations keep their finger on the pulse of the country with continuous telephone surveys of scientifically selected samples of adult Americans. These polls cover a variety of topics from the general question Gallup has asked since 1935 about what Americans think is the country’s most important problem, to views on specific policy issues such as taxes, the budget deficit, and healthcare. The public, like politicians, frequently do not agree on public policy issues, and their own views are often inconsistent.

  • Legitimizing Public Policy

Policy is legitimized as a result of the public statements or actions of government officials, both elected and appointed—the president, Congress, state legislators, agency officials, and the courts. This includes executive orders, budgets, laws and appropriations, rules and regulations, and administrative and court decisions that set policy directions. Kingdon found that as problems are being identified and certain policy proposals float to the top, the political climate—the current national mood, interest group pressure or lack of pressure, and who is in office—must all converge for a proposal to be adopted. These forces may serendipitously align to produce such a “policy window,” but policy entrepreneurs try to seize the opportunity to bring these forces to bear for a new policy or a policy change to occur.

Implementing Public Policy

Policy implementation includes all the activities that result from the official adoption of a policy. Policy implementation is what happens after a law is passed. We should never assume that the passage of a law is the end of the policymaking process. Sometimes laws are passed and nothing happens! Sometimes laws are passed and executive agencies, presuming to act under these laws, do a great deal more than Congress ever intended. Political scientist Robert Lineberry writes: The implementation process is not the end of policy-making, but a continuation of policy-making by other means. When policy is pronounced, the implementation process begins. What happens in it may, over the long run, have more impact on the ultimate distribution of policy than the intentions of the policy’s framers. Traditionally, public policy implementation was the subject matter of public administration. The separation of “politics” from “administration” was once thought to be the cornerstone of a scientific approach to administration. But today it is clear that politics and administration cannot be separated. Opponents of policies do not end their opposition after a law is passed. They continue their opposition in the implementation phase of the policy process by opposing attempts to organize, fund, staff, regulate, direct, and coordinate the program.

  • Evaluating Social Welfare Policy

Over the years, increasing numbers of formal evaluations of social policies have been conducted. Governments, especially the federal government, have spent millions of dollars to determine whether the policies and programs they have initiated are having effects. In discussing these studies in the chapters that follow, it is evident that program evaluations can produce their own political fallout. There may be disagreements about study methodology, and people with different views will interpret the same study results differently. Policy evaluations can be helpful to policymakers, but they usually do not solve political controversies or change deeply held values.

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