On Policy Feedback: Insights From Survey Experiments

Enero 2011
Instituto de Políticas y Bienes Públicos (IPP) CSIC, Working Paper. 2011-02

Clem Brooks & Inés Calzada

Spain is a model of negotiated transition, where peaceful change was prioritized versus transitional justice. However, in 2000 the politics of memory was placed on the political agenda. This reframing of the past has become a conflict. Why and how this process occurred? This article argues that electoral interests, ideologies and the search of impunity for the parties are keys to understand this process. On the one hand, these variables explain the different strategies, codes and arguments that encouraged the placement this issue on the agenda. But on the other hand, they are also linked to the inability of the reframing to create a new consensus on the origins of the regime. The transitional frame remains the meeting point in the past for parties, given the characteristics of the electorate, party ideology and the assumption of amnesty as a key to the origin of the regime. Meanwhile, the strength of the frame memory lies in its ability to be placed on the agenda and generate short-term conflicts.

Focusing on the issue of genetic diagnostic testing and drawing on aseries of semi-structured interviews with genetists, epidemiologists and clinicians in Spain, this paper highlights the limits of an individualistic approach to biomedicine, embedded in a larger process of biomedicalization of the health care system and geneticization of the medical research. In contrast to the current approaches on biomedical regulation, generally based either on bioethical considerations or on technical expertise, the present work suggests the necessity of integrating the decision making process with new approaches studying the social and political consequences of the massive implementation of biomedical technologies. Through the restoration of the centrality of the political discourse, new and effective systems of governance may allow the fertile participation of all the actors involved in the production, promotion, regulation and consumption of the new biotechnological treatments whilst, at the same time, reconcile high participation with decisional efficacy.

In comparative social science, policy feedback has become a widely popular device with which to understand policy persistence and the impacts of state-making and political entrepreneurship on mass opinion. Although the existence of such effects is frequently taken for granted, recent work has challenged prevailing assumptions about the unproblematic nature of feedback from policy change to mass opinion. This is an opportune time to put policy feedback to further test. We do so by bringing to bear the two main theoretical perspectives that underlie established and recent scholarship, and applying for the first time survey experiments to evaluate key expectations. Focusing on the relatively novel domain of counter-terrorism policy, we analyze data drawn from a national survey conducted in 2009. Results from embedded experiments suggest new evidence for policy feedback effects. Analysis of mechanisms suggests limits in interest-centered explanations, and the relevance of some under-studied, cognitive factors. We discuss implications and limits of our study for policy feedback scholarship, and with further reference to the case of U.S. attitudes toward the war on terror.