British Journal of Political Science


The Diffusion of Policy Diffusion Research in Political Science

Erin R. Graham, Charles R. Shipan and Craig Volden *


Over the past fifty years, top political science journals have published hundreds of articles about policy diffusion. This article reports on network analyses of how the ideas and approaches in these articles have spread both within and across the subfields of American politics, comparative politics and international relations. Then, based on a survey of the literature, the who, what, when, where, how and why of policy diffusion are addressed in order to identify and assess some of the main contributions and omissions in current scholarship. It is argued that studies of diffusion would benefit from paying more attention to developments in other subfields and from taking a more systematic approach to tackling the questions of when and how policy diffusion takes place.

(Online publication September 24 2012)


*  Department of History and Politics, Drexel University (email:; Department of Political Science, University of Michigan (email:; and Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia (email:, respectively. The authors thank Rachel Schneider and Mike Zilis for valuable research assistance, Derek Stafford for helpful assistance with network analyses, and participants at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, Mass., 2008, for useful suggestions. The article has gained immensely from generous comments made by Jenna Bednar, Bill Berry, Fred Boehmke, Sarah Brooks, Claire Dunlop, Lorraine Eden, Rob Franzese, Katharina Füglister, Fabrizio Gilardi, Virginia Gray, Don Haider-Markel, Andrew Karch, David Levi-Faur, Covadonga Meseguer, William Minozzi, Chris Mooney, Ben Noble, Aseem Prakash, Claudio Radaelli, Harvey Starr, Diane Stone, Hugh Ward, Kurt Weyland, Alan Wiseman and the anonymous reviewers.