When Policy Does Not Remake Politics: The Limits of Policy Feedback

39 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 25 Aug 2009

See all articles by Eric Patashnik

Eric Patashnik

Watson Institute, Brown University; Brown University - Department of Political Science

Julian E. Zelizer

Princeton University

Date Written: 2009


Over the past fifteen years, a burgeoning literature has explored the politics of policy feedback, showing how policies can create self-sustaining cycles of change and reconfigure the political dynamic. Yet there has been insufficient appreciation among historical institutionalists of the limits of feedback. In this essay, we explore three common reasons why positive feedback might not arise: weak policy design, inadequate or conflicting institutional supports, and poor timing. These conditions may be an unintended byproduct of the policy development process or they may stem from deliberate attempts by opponents to prevent a new policy from durably reshaping governing possibilities for the future. Drawing on a range of case examples, we discuss how the political impact of policy changes can peter out over time. More awareness of the institutional and temporal requisites of positive feedback should lead to a better understanding of the politics of policy development and may offer practical insight to reformers who wish to see their hard-won achievements last.

Keywords: institutions, policy feedback, path dependence

Suggested Citation

Patashnik, Eric and Zelizer, Julian E, When Policy Does Not Remake Politics: The Limits of Policy Feedback (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1449996

Eric Patashnik (Contact Author)

Watson Institute, Brown University ( email )

111 Thayer St
Providence, RI 02906
United States
434-924-0812 (Phone)
434-243-2318 (Fax)

Brown University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Box 1844
Providence, RI 02912
United States

Julian E Zelizer

Princeton University ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

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