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Category: Policy making

Governing by Polls

The study of policy responsiveness to public opinion is blossoming and propagating. Work published over the last two years includes the 2010 book by Stuart Soroka and Chris Wlezien (Canada, US and the UK), this paper by Sattler, Brandt, and Freeeman on the UK,  this paper on Denmark, my own article on the EU, Roberts and Kim’s work on post-Communist Europe, etc.  The latest edition to the literature is this article by Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips from Columbia University (forthcoming in AJPS). “The Democratic Deficit in the States” takes a cross-sectional rather than a dynamic (time series) perspective and analyzes both responsiveness  (correlation)  and congruence between policy outcomes and public opinion in the US states for eight policies. In short, there is a high degree of responsiveness but far from perfect congruence between majority opinion and policy. More salient policies fair better, and having powerful interest groups on your side helps. Altogether, this is an interesting and important study that adds yet another piece to our understanding of policy responsiveness. What starts to worry me, however, is that the normative implications of the policy responsiveness literature are too often taken for granted. Lax and Phillips seem to equate the lack of correspondence between public opinion and policy to democratic deficit(similarly, Sattler, Brandt and Freeman speak of ‘democratic accountability’). But there is quite a gap between the fact the a policy contradicts the majority of public opinion and the pronouncement of democratic failure. And we need to start unpacking the normative implications of the (lack of) policy responsiveness.  Of course, at a very general level no political system can be democratic unless…

Veto players and policy making (UK style)

 The concept of ‘veto players’ (developed initially by George Tsebelis) plays a prominent role in research on policy making, legislative production, policy implementation, etc. All these analyses need to be revised, however, because the measure of the number of British veto players has been revealed to be wrong. Everyone forgot to include ….. Prince Charles. Here is the story from the Guardian: Prince Charles has been offered a veto over 12 government bills since 2005. Ministers sought prince’s consent under secretive constitutional loophole on bills covering issues from gambling to the Olympics…Ministers have been forced to seek permission from Prince Charles to pass at least a dozen government bills, according to a Guardian investigation into a secretive constitutional loophole that gives him the right to veto legislation that might impact his private interests.  Plus one (veto player) for the UK. Minus one for democracy.