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The Policyscape and the Challenges of Contemporary Politics to Policy Maintenance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2016

Abstract

Contemporary political life takes place amid a “policyscape,” a landscape densely laden with policies created in the past that have themselves become established institutions, bearing consequences for governing operations, the policy agenda, and political behavior. Far from being static, policies often develop over time in ways that could not have been foreseen by their creators, due to dynamics they themselves generate, including design effects, unintended consequences, and lateral effects. Owing to such dynamics, existing policies require upkeep and maintenance if they are to continue to function well. The extent to which lawmakers engage effectively in such work varies, however, depending on the fit between the demands of the policyscape and the attributes of the historical political context. Bipartisan reform efforts occurred in many policy areas as recently as the early 1990s. More recently, partisan polarization and other developments have undermined such political capacity, leaving numerous policies untended for long periods and in many instances, even formal reauthorization long overdue. A cursory overview of policies associated with Americans’ top 20 policy priorities reveals that more than half are subject to deferred maintenance. The mismatch between the demands of the policyscape and the character of contemporary politics imperils effective democratic governance.

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Copyright
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016 

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