The Politics of the Policyscape: The Challenges of Contemporary Governance for Policy Maintenance

40 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2014

Date Written: August 21, 2014


Contemporary political life takes place in what can be called a “policyscape:” a landscape in which policies created in the past have themselves become institutions that shape governing operations, political behavior, the policy agenda, and the relationship between state and society. To understand American politics today, therefore, policies themselves below in the forefront of the investigation, alongside the three branches of national government and the arrangements of federalism. Policies develop over time in ways that could not have been foreseen by their creators: they may yield design effects, as some components evolve to become more sustainable than others; unintended consequences, such as the development of 3rd party interests into powerful players that may divert resources for themselves; or lateral effects, as other policies compete with them for funding or attention and affect their capacity. Owing to such dynamics, the upkeep and maintenance of existing policies now constitute central tasks for elected officials. The extent to which they engage effectively in such work, however, depends on the historical political context. As recently as the early 1990s, some lawmakers in both political parties managed to work together on reform proposals. More recently, however, partisan polarization has undermined such political capacity, leaving numerous major policy areas untended and overdue for updating and reform.

Keywords: public policy, policy development, American political development, policy maintenance, higher education policy

Suggested Citation

Mettler, Suzanne, The Politics of the Policyscape: The Challenges of Contemporary Governance for Policy Maintenance (August 21, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Suzanne Mettler (Contact Author)

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY
United States

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