Suzanne Mettler: When and How a New Policy Creates a New Politics


Monday, April 4, 2016, 12:00am to 1:45pm


Harvard Kennedy School: Allison Dining Room

Suzanne Mettler, Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions, Government Department, Cornell University.

Bridging Political Behavior and Policy Feedback Analysis 

Following E.E. Schattschneider’s famous observation that “a new policy creates a new politics,” scholars over the past 25 years have developed a theory of “policy feedback,” positing that individuals’ experiences of the resources and messages conveyed by policy design influences their subsequent political behavior.  

Recent studies observe, however, that policy feedback does not always occur, even when lawmakers attempt to promote it, and the form it takes varies considerably.

To explain such variation, we call for policy feedback studies to draw more thoroughly on political behavior research.  We theorize the following: (1) feedback effects may be conditional on political factors, such as partisanship and trust in government; (2) policy design generates priming effects that may activate self-interest or sociotropic motivations, and (3) feedback effects result not only from policy benefits but also from policy burdens, and the interplay between them.

We test these expectations by drawing on a unique panel study of Americans’ experiences of and responses to the Affordable Care Act, with waves in 2010, 2012, and 2014. We find that policy feedback effects occur in a wide variety of ways, each of which are contingent on well-established dynamics of political behavior.     

About the speaker

Suzanne Mettler is the Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions in the Government Department at Cornell University.

Mettler’s research and teaching interests include public policy (including social welfare, tax, health, and education policies), American political development, political behavior and civic engagement, and inequality.

Her recent most recent book is Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream (2014). Her current projects include a multi-year panel study of how health care reform influences public opinion, and an examination of how changes in social provision since 1980 have affected American’s attitudes about government and participation in politics.

Mettler is a Fellow at the Century Foundation and serves on the board of the Scholars Strategy Network. She has previously served as president of the Politics and History section of the APSA and president  of the association’s Public Policy section.

See also: Spring 2016