How Policymakers Can Craft Measures That Endure and Build Political Power

June 17, 2020

As the United States grapples with ongoing social, health, and economic crises, policymakers are considering—and enacting—major changes at all levels of government. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this includes bolstering existing programs, like unemployment insurance, and creating new initiatives, like grants and loans for small businesses and a new paid sick leave benefit. And in the wake of mass protests against police violence, policymakers are considering reforms to public safety funding and practices. If these programs work as hoped, they may have profound economic and social consequences.

These policies could have significant political effects as well, changing the relationship that Americans, social movements, grassroots organizations, and private-sector businesses have with government and creating new opportunities for future policymaking. Public policies can fundamentally change politics in ways that reverberate through future elections and policy debates. Political scientists call these  “policy feedback loops,” in which initial changes in public policy produce further changes in politics with implications for later policymaking.

In “How Policymakers Can Craft Measures That Endure and Build Political Power,” Alexander Hertel-Fernandez argues that good policy design requires taking policy feedback into account. Doing so creates policies that are more likely to be effective, to endure over time, to open up further possibilities for progressive policymaking in the future, and to build political power and voice for historically marginalized communities.

In this brief, Hertel-Fernandez asks how elected officials and advocacy groups can use policy design to build enduring, progressive programs. He answers by summarizing lessons from decades of policymaking and research on successful and unsuccessful policy feedback loops and spelling out when policies are most likely to create such effects by:

  • describing the different ways that policy creates feedback loops;
  • outlining the benefits of attending to policy feedback loops as a means of strengthening the political viability and effectiveness of public programs and US democracy; and
  • recommending a set of policy changes to help elected officials in a new presidential administration harness feedback loops to achieve progressive policy ends.