Matt Grossmann

Michigan State University
Political Science / Institute for Public Policy and Social Research

509 E. Circle Drive, Room 321
Berkey Hall, Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI
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My 2014 book, Artists of the Possible: Governing Networks and American Policy Change Since 1945 (Oxford University Press) argues that significant policy change arises from coalitions and compromises among institutionalized policy entrepreneurs, including presidents, interest groups, and long-serving senators. The project relies on a content analysis of 268 books and articles on the history of 14 different major policy areas over 60 years. The histories collectively uncover 790 significant policy enactments of the federal government. The policy historians credit 1,306 specific actors for their role in policy change along with more than 60 political circumstances. The book compiles and integrates these findings to assess the factors that drive policymaking. My latest book, Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats, is about stable differences in the configuration of the major American parties and their effects on public policy. We argue that the Democrats are a social group coalition and the Republicans are an ideological movement. We show that theories of policymaking apply much more readily to Democratic governance, because Republicans are driven by a commitment to (unachievable) small government principles. I am also researching the role of political parties and interest groups in the unequal influence of high- and low-income Americans on policy outcomes, using a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation to augment the Marty Gilens dataset on public influence on policy outcomes since 1981.

Matt Grossmann and David Hopkins. 2016. Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats. New York: Oxford University Press.
Abstract: Why do Republican politicians promise to rein in government, only to face repeated rebellions from Republican voters and media critics for betraying their principles? Why do Democratic politicians propose an array of different policies to match the diversity of their supporters, only to become mired in stark demographic divisions over issue priorities? In short, why do the two parties act so differently-whether in the electorate, on the campaign trail, or in public office? Asymmetric Politics offers a comprehensive explanation: The Republican Party is the vehicle of an ideological movement while the Democratic Party is a coalition of social groups. Republican leaders prize conservatism and attract support by pledging loyalty to broad values. Democratic leaders instead seek concrete government action, appealing to voters' group identities and interests by endorsing specific policies. This fresh and comprehensive investigation reveals how Democrats and Republicans think differently about politics, rely on distinct sources of information, argue past one another, and pursue divergent goals in government. It provides a rigorous new understanding of contemporary polarization and governing dysfunction while demonstrating how longstanding features of American politics and public policy reflect our asymmetric party system.
Matt Grossmann. 2013. “The Variable Politics of the Policy Process: Issue Area Differences and Comparative Networks.” Journal of Politics 75 (1).
Abstract: The politics of policy-issue areas differ in multiple ways, including the venues where policies are enacted, the frequency and type of policy development, the relative importance of different circumstantial factors in policy change, the composition of participants in policymaking, and the structure of issue networks. The differences cannot be summarized by typologies because each issue area differs substantially from the norm on only a few distinct characteristics. To understand these commonalities and differences, I aggregate information from 231 books and 37 articles that review the history of American domestic policy in 14 issue areas from 1945 to 2004. The histories collectively uncover 790 notable policy enactments and credit 1,306 actors for their role in policy development. The politics of each issue area stand out in a few important but unrelated aspects.
Matt Grossmann. Forthcoming. Artists of the Possible: Governing Networks and American Policy Change Since 1945. (Oxford Studies in Postwar American Political Development Series). New York: Oxford University Press.
Abstract: His next book, Artists of the Possible: Governing Networks and American Policy Change Since 1945, is in production from Oxford University Press. The book covers the political circumstances and actors responsible for domestic policy change in 14 issue areas in all three branches of government. It argues that macro political trends do not explain the ideological direction or amount of federal policy change since WWII. The book shows that neither the issue agenda of government nor the concerns of the public are a reliable guide to policy change. Instead, cooperation and compromise among well-known interest groups, long-serving legislators, and presidents produces policy change, but only if policymakers settle on a cross-issue program of government expansion.
Matt Grossmann. Forthcoming. “Varied Effects of Policy Cues on Partisan Opinions,” Politics & Policy.
Abstract: Although citizens often arrive at the same views as their political party’s leaders, they also respond to information about policy targets and effects. Accounting for political context, even in the U.S., encourages a variable view of how partisanship shapes opinions in policy debates. In three survey experiments associated with policies supported by both Democrats and Republicans, I find that both aspects of policy argumentation and the actors making the arguments can enable partisanship to affect public opinion. This process is highly conditional, however: sometimes polarization occurs only with the presence a single politician; in other areas, polarization is likely following presentation of evidence by either partisan side. The effect of policy information on partisan polarization is variable across political and policy contexts.
Matt Grossmann and David Hopkins. Conditionally Accepted. ”Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democracy: Asymmetry of American Party Politics” Perspectives on Politics.
Abstract: Scholarship commonly implies that the American parties are configured as mirror images to each other, but the two sides actually exhibit important and underappreciated differences. The Republican Party is primarily the agent of an ideological movement whose supporters prize doctrinal purity, while the Democratic Party is better understood as a coalition of social groups seeking concrete government action. This asymmetry is reinforced by American public opinion, which favors left-of- center positions on most specific policy issues yet simultaneously shares the general conservative preference for smaller and less active government. Each party therefore faces a distinctive governing challenge in balancing the unique demands of its base with the need to maintain broad popular support. This foundational difference between the parties also explains why the rise of the Tea Party movement among Republicans in recent years has not been accompanied by an equivalent ideological insurgency among Democrats.
Matt Grossmann. 2012. The Not-So-Special Interests: Interest Groups, Public Representation, and American Governance. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Abstract: The book explains why certain public groups, such as Jews, lawyers, and gun-owners, develop substantially more organized representation than others and why particular advocacy organizations become the presumed spokespersons for these groups in all types of media and all branches of government. Part 1 argues that ethnic, religious, occupational, and ideological groups in the American public generate organized representation in proportion to their civic and political capacity. Part 2 argues that organizations become taken-for-granted surrogates for these constituencies when their scale, breadth, and longevity enable them to play legitimized roles in public representation and policy deliberation. I use new data on the structure of more than 1,600 interest groups in Washington as well as their prominence in the media and their involvement in committee hearings, administrative rulemaking, Presidential directives, and federal litigation. I link this to public opinion survey data on the demographics, political views, and civic engagement of 140 public constituencies that these organizations claim to represent.
Matt Grossmann. 2012. “Interest Group Influence on U.S. Policy Change: An Assessment Based on Policy History.” Interest Groups & Advocacy 1 (2).
Abstract: How often and in what circumstances do interest groups influence US national policy outcomes? In this article, I introduce a new method of assessing influence based on the judgments of policy historians. I aggregate information from 268 sources that review the history of domestic policy making across 14 domestic policy issue areas from 1945 to 2004. Policy historians collectively credit factors related to interest groups in 385 of the 790 significant policy enactments that they identify. This reported influence occurs in all branches of government, but varies across time and policy area. The most commonly credited form of influence is general support and lobbying by advocacy organizations. I also take advantage of the historians’ reports to construct a network of 299 specific interest groups credited with policy enactments. The interest group influence network is centralized, with some ideological polarization. The results demonstrate that interest group influence may be widespread, even though the typical tools that we use to assess it are unlikely to find it.

Substantive Focus:
Law and Policy
Economic Policy SECONDARY
Education Policy
Energy and Natural Resource Policy
Environmental Policy
Governance PRIMARY
Health Policy
Science and Technology Policy
Social Policy

Theoretical Focus:
Policy History PRIMARY
Policy Process Theory SECONDARY
Agenda-Setting, Adoption, and Implementation
Public Opinion