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Power: Bias In Agenda Setting

Consider this statement:

The determination of what does and what does not become a matter of governmental action is the supreme instrument of power.

Can we connect agenda setting with politics and power? Many believe that the American public policy process benefits some more than others, even at the expense of others. There are winners and losers in the policy game.

The corresponding section of The Public Policy Cycle, called "Is There a Bias in Agenda Setting?", provides some help in grappling with this substantial and complicated subject. Read it along with this supplement. This is an important topic, basic to our understanding of public policy.

Bias, Power, and Politics

Can you connect agenda, bias, politics, and power? Making these associations is the goal of this section.

We pay attention to the winners, those who get what they want from the political process, but without even getting into the game --- getting on the agenda --- you can count on getting nothing. To play the game, you must first find a seat at the table: You must move your item, thus your interests, onto a specific institutional agenda. Let's try to understand this now.

Three concepts govern our understanding here:

  1. A bias is a systematic error encouraging one outcome over others. Someone gets attention while others do not in so systematic a manner as to suggest bias.
  2. Bias gets us to Harold Lasswell's classic American definition of politics: Politics is who gets what, when, and how.
  3. Politics connects bias to public policy through power. The topic of power is a large and controversial one, worthy of a political science course of its own. The classic definition of power came from the German sociologist Max Weber:
"Power (das Macht) is the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry our their own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests."

Theories of power

Three schools of thought on power are discussed, framed in terms of the course: the power elite, the pluralist, and the democractic. Go to the discussion of theories of power next.

The Public Policy Cycle Web Site | Page: © Wayne Hayes, Ph.D. | ™ ProfWork |
Initialized: July 28, 1999 | Last Update: 5/28/2009