chapter  9
19 Pages

The American policy style(s)

Multiple institutions creating gridlock and opportunities
ByB. Guy Peters

The question, regarding policy styles, is whether one style can capture the various ways in which policy is made. Comparing the United States to countries where citizens have significant influence over policy could be suitable if one focused on state and local governments, but even here there are marked differences in citizens’ capacities to exert direct influence. At the federal level, there are few – if any – opportunities for direct participation in policymaking. Nevertheless, there are at all levels multiple access points for citizens. The role of the courts in making policy can, in particular, provide policy-influencing opportunities not available in many other countries. Were Richardson’s two dimensions applied to the US, its policymaking would be considered reactive – with gridlock and extreme partisanship preventing action on all but the most pressing issues – but the majoritarian/consensus dimension is a bit problematic. The Constitution assumed a consensus-driven governance style among a small group of economic and political elites, but the system’s democratization and increased polarization is increasingly rendering the policymaking style one of imposition. Nevertheless, the in-built system of checks and balances makes majoritarian policymaking difficult. Gridlock, conflict and blockage may thus be the best characterization of policymaking at the federal level.