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Focusing events, policy dictators and the dynamics of reform

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Following the seminal work of Baumgartner and Jones, the punctuated equilibrium approach has won wide popularity. A series of studies have documented how policy areas are characterised by long periods of stability, which are disrupted from time to time by dramatic attention shifts leading to policy changes. The approach has so far overwhelmingly been applied in a US setting, while studies of punctuations in parliamentary systems are lacking. The paper presents a theoretical framework and empirical test that integrates the punctuated equilibrium approach with the work on pivotal parties as policy dictators. A policy dictator can veto reforms even following a focusing event that dramatically alters the policy image in an area. If the policy dictator is averse to the new policy image, all reform initiatives will be blocked; if the policy dictator is non-averse, reform initiatives will be allowed. The framework can help explain why dramatic attention shifts do not always lead to policy changes, but are mediated by the strength and policy position of the pivotal party.
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Keywords: focusing events; policy dictators and the dynamics of reform

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Political Science, Aarhus University, DK-8000, Aarhus C, Denmark

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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