Volume 52, No. 2 | Political decision-making processes

Peter Munk Christiansen and Anne Mette Kjær | Structures and actors in analyses of political decisions

The article identifies some of the most significant developments in the political science literature concerning political decisions in the new millennium. We apply the traditional distinction between structure- and actor-based explanations and find that Danish political science has put a lot of effort into explaining both stability and changes in public policy and political decisions. This has contributed to a better combination of actor- and structure-based explanations; however, gaps in the literature remain. We still have limited knowledge about several elements in political decision making. For example, we lack knowledge about what happens in the early decision-making stage, which in recent years has appeared increasingly closed. Likewise, we have limited knowledge about the role of the bureaucracy in the drafting of political decisions. Finally, there is a lack of qualitative case studies of recent political decisions and therefore a lack of comparative analyses of these decisions. The article calls for research in these areas.

Keywords: political decisions, Danish political science, policy continuity, policy change, agenda setting 

Helle Ørsted Nielsen and Anders Branth Pedersen | Decision processes in agriculture

Bounded rationality theory, first developed by Herbert Simon (1947), is one of the first contributions to political science that explicitly focuses on decision processes and links cognitive science to research on decision processes at the level of both the individual and organisations. In line with more recent behavioral research, bounded rationality theory holds that public policy design should build on a realistic model of human behavior. The article analyzes the decision processes of Danish farmers against their responses to two versions of pesticide taxes implemented in Denmark, one in 1998 and the other in 2013. The two taxes achieved different success rates, although neither version achieved the pesticide reductions predicted by ex-ante models that built on the assumption of farmers as economically rational. We find that farmers’ decision processes are consistent with features of bounded rationality, which may partially explain why the taxes were not as effective as predicted. However, with the second version of the tax adopted in 2013, the tax rate was doubled, which may have prompted farmers to give higher priority to economic objectives, possibly explaining why this recent version of the tax has been more successful.

Keywords: bounded rationality, environmental tax, pesticide policy, policy design, target group behavior 

Anne Mette Kjær | The paradigm shift in danish development policy

How has Danish development policy evolved, and what are the underlying driving forces of these changes? Drawing on Peter Hall’s framework, this article identifies recent changes in Danish development policy as a gradual shift of policy paradigm during the years in the new millennium. The size of development aid, the use of policy instruments, and the goal hierarchies in development policy all changed. The proportion of aid to GNI has been reduced by more than 30 percent, the composition of aid has changed in that allocations for country programs in the poorest countries have declined. Finally, the overall purpose of aid is no longer solely poverty reduction. In explaining these changes, the article shows that they emerged as a result of a politicization of aid preceded by a shift in the locus of authority.

Keywords: policy paradigms, politization, Danish development policy, aid, poverty 

Peter Nedergaard, Maja Friis and Mads Dagnis Jensen | Decision-making processes during EU presidencies

This article analyses governmental decision-making processes during presidencies of the European Union (EU) from the outset of the planning to the end of the evaluation of the concluded presidency. The Polish, Danish and Cypriot presidencies in the Trio of 2011-2012 are compared by applying a Most Different Systems Design. The three presidencies represent member states that differ in political, administrative and geographical terms. In spite of these differences, considerable similarities can also be traced between the countries in terms of how they handled the presidency, especially how civil servants adapted to the different phases. However, there are also variations concerning the degree of centralization versus decentralization of the whole process, the degree of autonomy of individual civil servants, the degree of political involvement in the presidency process, and the type of evaluation carried out after the EU presidency had taken place. The article is based on interviews with more than 80 civil servants involved in the presidency process from the three countries over a period of nearly four years.

Keywords: EU presidency, Denmark, Poland, Cyprus, trio, Dansk EU presidency 

Erik Albæk and Christoffer Green-Pedersen | The media’s role in political decision-making processes

Do the media matter for public policy making? Based on the literature on the conditionality of the effect of mass media attention on political attention and theories of public policy making, this article argues that it depends on prior political attention. If the media focus on a case related to an issue to which politicians already pay attention, and the media attention is sustained, this can initiate a political decision-making process that leads to public policy change. The article illustrates this logic using two Danish examples and discusses how this argument can be investigated more broadly.

Keywords: Mass media, political attention, political decision making, public policy 

Peter Munk Christiansen og Michael Baggesen Klitgaard The empire strikes back: Options and reform decisions

 Political decision making based on institutionalized coordination between the state and relevant societal interests facilitated consensus and generated stable political solutions in the era of class politics. Beyond class politics and in the era of permanent austerity, governments are often caught in situations in which they pursue reform intentions that necessitate infliction of concentrated losses on organized interests, which reduce the possibility to achieve consensus. We argue that partisan governments in the post-class politics terrain rather than experiencing reduced reform capacities have more room for maneuvering and more flexibility in formation of viable reform alliances with organized interest groups. In effect, governments have improved strategic opportunities to maximize a partisan imprint on policy. The price they pay, however, is reduced consensus and reduced political stability around the decisions and policies that are carried through. We illustrate the relevance of this theoretical argument in case studies of three significant policy decisions in Denmark: a) (parts of) the local government reform from 2007, b) the decision to regulate public school teachers working conditions by law from 2013, c) the reduction of the inheritance taxes imposed on family-owned companies from 2017. In all three cases, the government implemented reforms in strategic alliances with some interest groups against the preferences of others and broke with traditional allies in the interest group terrain. In all three cases, the government maximized policy influence and had to accept that the policy decisions remain contested by alternative coalitions and majorities.

Keywords: interest group politics, reform policy, reform insecurity, partisan imprints, beyond class politics  

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