The Journal of Politics


Agenda Dynamics and Policy Subsystems

Frank R. Baumgartnera1 and Bryan D. Jonesa1

a1 Texas A&M University1


Rapid change in public policy outcomes often occurs, but most theories of pluralism emphasize only incrementalism. Yet from a historical view, it can easily be seen that many policies go through long periods of stability and short periods of dramatic reversals. Often the grand lines of policy may be settled for decades during such critical periods of mobilization.

In this paper, we argue a single process can explain both periods of extreme stability and short bursts of rapid change. This process is the interaction of beliefs and values concerning a particular policy, which we term the policy image, with the existing set of political institutions—the venues of policy action. In a pluralist political system, subsystems can be created that are highly favorable to a given industry. But at the same time, there remain other institutional venues that can serve as avenues of appeal for the disaffected. Here we use the case of civilian nuclear policy to examine the process by which policy images find a favorable reception in some institutional venues but not others, and how the interaction between image and venue can lead to the rapid creation, destruction, or alteration of policy subsystems. We rely on data from a variety of sources to trace agenda access of the nuclear power issue in each of the policy venues available.

(Received March 07 1991)

(Accepted February 02 1990)

Frank R. Baumgartner is assistant professor of political science, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843.

Bryan D. Jones is professor of political science, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843


1 Authors listed alphabetically to indicate equal contributions to this article and to the larger project of which it is a part.