This book presents a new view of American policymaking, focusing on networks of actors responsible for policymaking. Policy change is not easily predictable from election results or public opinion because compromise and coalitions among individual actors make a difference in all three branches of government. The amount of government action, the issue content of policy changes, and the ideological direction of policy all depend on the joint actions of executive officials, legislators, and interest group leaders. The patterns of cooperation among policymakers and activists make each issue area and time period different from the others and undermine attempts to build an unchanging unified model of American policymaking. In Artists of the Possible, Matt Grossman undertakes a rigorous content analysis of 268 books and articles on the history of 14 different major policy areas over 60 years, compiling and integrates these findings to assess the factors that drive policymaking.
His findings-which collectively uncover the 790 most significant policy enactments of the federal government and credit 1,306 specific actors for their role in policy change, along with more than 60 circumstantial factors-overturn established theories of policymaking. First, significant policy change does not follow from the issue agenda of the electorate or policymakers. Second, neither changes in public opinion nor the ideology or partisanship of government officials reliably influence the amount or content of policy change. Instead, the patterns of cooperation and compromise among political elites drive the productivity and ideological direction of policymaking. Third, the policymaking roles of public opinion, media coverage, research, and international factors are all limited. Fourth, no typology can explain differences in policymaking across issue areas because the policy process is broadly similar except for a few idiosyncratic differences associated with each issue area.