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The Political Context of Policy Making

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Actors, Interests and Lobbying
Administration and Governance
Administrative Law and Constitutional Checks on the Executive
All-Powerful Leaders?: The Concentration of Power in Modern Executives
Bureaucracy and the Formulation of Public Policy
Canadian Intergovernmental Structures and Operating Processes
Conceptual and Theoretical Foundations of Third Sector Governance and Management
Courts, Judicial Review, Rights and Democracy
Emergence of the Nation State
Executive Authority, Cabinet and Leadership
Executive Leadership in Government
Executive-Legislative Relations
Federal-Provincial Fiscal Relations
Federal-Provincial-Municipal Relations
Game Theory and Rational Institutionalism
Indigenous Rights and Institutions
Institutional Architecture: Federalism
Institutional Designs and Paths
Machinery of Government
Media, Framing and Agenda Setting
New Public Management
Parliamentary, Presidential and Decentralized Unitary Systems
Political and Administrative Responsibilities
Political and Administrative Responsibilities
Political Parties and Elections
Probing the Accuracy of Rational Decision Making Models: Alternative Accounts
Public and Para-Public Institutions
Public Institutions, Organizing Principles and Democratic Control
Public Opinion, Ideas and Policy Frames
Representation and Accountability
Representation and Responsiveness
Representation, Accountability and Policy
The Architecture of the Canadian State
The Bureaucracy and Bureaucratic Behaviour
The Changing Role of the State
The Democratic Deficit: Ethics, Responsiveness and Performance
The International Context of Domestic Institutions
The Policy Cycle
The Political Context of Policy Making
Weber: Rationalization and Bureaucracy
Westminster Parliamentary Systems
Who are the Players in the Policy Process?

A Normed Topic in Democratic Institutions and Policy Process  

The Political Context of Policy Making

This topic focuses on the political side of policy making and seeks to provide information on how political institutions and structures shape the choice architecture of politicians and the decision making process (PPPA-6011). Through looking at the process of the policy making as being shaped by a country’s constitution, this topic seeks to demonstrate how policy options are framed, debated, and evaluated through looking at policy debates in the legislature, justice system, and the ballot box (PP-202). A comparative approach can be adopted with the goal of discerning the extent to which different political systems and impact the policy making process. This allows one to critically analyze the actions of political actors (political parties, social movements, labour unions) in the policy making process through understanding the structural conditions that they work within and the strategies they employ to influence policy (DPI-101). This topic analyzes the nature of the political system through looking at the theoretical underpinnings of the democratic system and assessing the system’s ability to meet the increasingly complex demands of contemporary governance (JSGS-801).

Topic Learning Outcome: Upon mastering this topic at the MPP/MPA level, the student will understand how political institutions and structures shape the choice architecture of politicians and the decision making process, and how different political systems impact the policy making process, including their ability to meet the increasingly complex demands of contemporary governance. The student will be able to describe the concepts listed below.

Core Concepts associated with this TopicAgenda Setting; Brokerage Politics; Deliberative Democracy; Democracy; Direct vs. Indirect Democracy; Interest Aggregation; Issue-Attention Cycle; Issue Framing; Legislature; Political PartiesVenue Shopping

Recommended Readings

UCLA: PP-202

Deborah A. Stone. Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making, 3rd Ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011.  Introduction, Chapters 1-4, 6-9, 11-14, Conclusion.

“Memo Writing.” The Electronic Hallway, Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington, 20.

R. Kent Weaver. Ending Welfare as We Know It. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2000. Chapter 6, “The Role of Policy Research,” pp. 135-168.

George Washington: PPA-6011

Charles Lindblom (1959), “The Science of Muddling Through." PAR 19(2): 79-88.

Sarah A. Binder and Thomas E. Mann (2011), “Constraints on Leadership in Washington.” Brookings Institution, Issues in Governance Studies. Vol. 41: 1-18. Available at: 

Arnold J. Meltsner. (1972), “Political Feasibility and Policy Analysis.” PAR, 32(6): 859-867.

Marcia Clemmitt (2010), “Gridlock in Washington: Is Congress too Polarized to Act?” CQ Researcher, 20(7): 385-408.

Bachrach and Baratz (1962), “Two Faces of Power,” American Political Science Review, 56(4): 947-952.

Anthony Downs (1972), “Up and Down with Ecology: The Issue-Attention Cycle.” The Public Interest, 28: 38-50.

Frank R. Baumgartner, Jeffrey M. Berry, Marie Hojnacki, and David C. Kimball (2009). Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.           Chapters 1-5

Harvard Kennedy School:  DPI-101

Scott Mainwaring and Matthew Shugart, 1997, “Juan Linz, Presidentialism, Democracy: A Critical Appraisal,” Comparative Politics 29(4), pp. 449-471.

Juan Linz, 1990, “The Perils of Presidentialism,” Journal of Democracy, 1 (1), pp. 51-69.

Donald Horowitz, 2003, “Electoral Systems: A Primer for Decision Makers,” Journal of Democracy 14 (4), pp. 115-127.

Torben Iversen and David Soskice, 2006, “Electoral Institutions and the Politics of Coalitions: Why Some Democracies Redistribute More Than Others,” American Political Science Review100 (2), pp. 165-181.

NYU Wagner: GP-1022

Kraft & Furlong, Public Policy: Politics, Analysis and Alternatives, 4th edition (2013).  Chapter 2

Kingdon. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 2nd updated edition (2011). Chapters 2 and 3

Heclo, “Issue Networks and the Executive Establishment.”

 Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy: JSGS-801

Skogstad, Grace. 2003. “Who Governs? Who Should Govern? Political Authority and Legitimacy in Canada in the Twenty-First Century.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 36(5), 955-973.

Sutherland, Sharon. 1991. “Responsible Government and Ministerial Responsibility: Every Solution is its Own Problem.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 24(1), 91-111.

Smith, David. 2007. “Clarifying the Doctrine of Ministerial Responsibility as it Applies to the Government and Parliament of Canada.” Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and Advertising Activities Research Studies I. 101-43. 

Brown, David C.G. 2013. "Accountability in a collectivized environment: From Glassco to digital public administration." Canadian Public Administration 56 (1): 47-69.

Mulgan, Richard. 2010. “Where Have All the Ministers Gone?” Australian Journal of Public Administration, 69 (3): 289-300.

Polidano, Charles. 1999. “The Bureaucrat Who Fell Under a Bus: Ministerial Responsibility, Executive Agencies and The Derek Lewis Affair in Britain.” Governance 12(2): 201-229.

D’Ombrain, Nicolas. 2007. “Ministerial Responsibility and the Machinery of Government,” Canadian Public Administration 50(2): 195-218.

University of Toronto: PPG-1001

Hall, Peter A. and Rosemary C.R. Taylor. 1996. “Political Science and the Three New Institutionalisms.” Political Studies 64: pp. 936-957.

Schwab, David and Elinor Ostrom. 2008. “The Vital role of Norms and Rules in Making Open Public and Private Economies.” In Moral Markets: The Critical role of Values in the Economy, ed. Paul J. Zak. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 204-227.

Shepsle, Kenneth. 1989. “Studying Institutions: Some Lessons from the Rational Choice Approach.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 1, 2: pp. 131-47.

Hardin, Garrett. 1968. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science 162: pp. 1243-1248.

March, James G. and Johan P. Olsen. 1996. “Institutional Perspectives on Political Institutions.” Governance 9, 3: pp. 247-264.

Moe, Terry. 2005. “Power and Political Institutions.” Perspectives on Politics 3, 2 : pp. 215-233.

Ostrom, Elinor. 1999. “Coping with Tragedies of the Commons.” Annual Review of Political Science 2: pp. 493-535.

Pierson, Paul. 1995. “Fragmented Welfare States: Federal Institutions and the Development of Social Policy.” Governance 8, 4: pp. 449-478.

Tsebelis, George. 1995. “Decision Making in Political Systems: Veto Players in Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, Multicameralism and Multipartyism.” British Journal of Political Science 25: pp. 289-325.

American University: PUAD-612

Frank J. Goodnow, “Politics and Administration,” (1900).

Paul Appleby, “Government is Different,” from Big Democracy (1945).

Philip Selznick, “The Cooptative Mechanism,” (1949).

Lowi, Theodore J. "The end of liberalism: The second republic of the United States." (1979).

Possible Assessment Questions:

  1. Define the following terms: Agenda Setting; Brokerage Politics; Deliberative Democracy; Democracy; Direct vs. Indirect Democracy; Interest Aggregation; Issue-Attention Cycle; Issue Framing; Legislature; Political Parties; Venue Shopping. 
  2. How do political pressures influence the choice architecture facing politicians and other policymakers?
  3. It is sometimes said that political pressure is a constraint on rational policymaking. Explain why you think this is or is not true, using examples.
  4. Given the complexities of contemporary governance, would citizens be better served if more decisions were placed in the hands of unelected, professional public servants who are more insulated from political pressure than elected politicians? Why or why not?

Page created by: Joshua Tan, edited by Ben Eisen, updated by Ian Clark, 4 February 2015.

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© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance