NEW TO 2016


The Fifthteenth Edition of Understanding Public Policy focuses on the policy issues confronting President Barack Obama in his second term in the White House.

President Obama has made income inequality a major political issue. The rise of inequality in recent years is described and analyzed in a revised chapter entitled "Welfare and Inequality: the Search for a Rational Strategy". But despite rising inequality, America remains the land of opportunity. Income mobility—people moving up and down the income ladder—characterizes American society. Studies reveal that over half of the poorest Americans can expect to move up the income scale in less than a 10-year period.

Obama care remains the signature political achievement of the Obama administration. So far it has survived various challenges, including the important question of the constitutionality of the individual mandate. Chapter 8 describes the complex reasoning of Chief Justice John Roberts, who held that the mandate and penalty was really a "tax" and therefore within the constitutional power of Congress to levy taxes. This decision, opposed by the Attorney Generals of 26 states, paved the way for the implementation of Obama care. Initially implementation went badly with computer glitches obstructing enrollment; later it was revealed that millions of existing plans were canceled for failure to meet new federal requirements. The President's promise "if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan" was broken.

According to national polls, the economy remains the most important issue facing America. Chapter 11 describes the near collapse of the banking industry in 2008-09 and the government's unprecedented efforts to avert another Great Depression. It attributes much of the near disaster to the federal government's policies including the actions of government corporations "Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac". The chapter traces the long, slow, incomplete recovery – the "Great Recession". The federal government's debt now amounts to over $18 trillion, an amount in excess of $50,000 for every man, woman and child nation. The economy policy chapter also describes proposals reduce annual deficits. A new section shows America's ranking on the Economic freedom Index to be dropping.

Despite years of seeming neglect, federalism appears to be experiencing a revival in the American Institutional structure. The states are leading the way in medicinal use of marijuana, in same-sex marriages, and banning racial preference. All three issues are covered in separate chapters. Crime is down from its historic highs, partially as a result of law enforcement initiatives taken in states and cities in the 1980s and 90s, although now pressures have arisen to lessen sentences and hard-nosed police practices. In education, the federal government has granted waivers to most states from the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. The states have come together through the National Governors Association to construct a "common core" of desired educational outcomes.

Tax policy issues have severely divided the Congress. The standoff between the President and the Democratic-controlled Senate, and the Republican-controlled House is described in detail, including the sequestration and temporary shutdown of the federal government in 2013. President Obama succeeded in placing the blame on the House Republicans, and he succeeded in getting a raise the top marginal income tax rate back to 39.6%. Despite the president's rhetoric about income inequality no change was made tax capital gains and dividends taxation which remain at less than half of the rates on wage income.

Comprehensive Immigration reform passed the Democratic-controlled Senate but failed to get to a vote in the Republican-controlled House. The elements of Immigration reform are discussed in chapter 12 and contrasted with current immigration policy the United States. The US has failed to enforce border controls and allowed 10-12 million undocumented immigrants to live in the country as second-class non-citizens. Special interests who gain from low-wage labor have been successful so far in preventing comprehensive immigration reform or even full implementation of current immigration laws. By executive order, President Obama ordered the non-deportation of children brought to the United States by their parents (in effect enacting the Dream Act which had been defeated in Congress). One result was an influx of children across our Mexican border.

Climate change is given new extensive coverage in chapter 13 "Energy and the Environment: Externalities and Interests". "Cap and trade" proposals are described as well as the efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency to enact rules previously reflected by the Congress. A new revolution in energy—"fracking"—promises to reduce United States dependence on foreign oil and gas, as well as reduce carbon emissions. Fracking was developed by the private market, not government, which continues to heavily subsidize "renewable" energy sources.

President Barack Obama's drawdown of US military forces is described and assessed in a revised defense policy chapter. The chaotic conclusions to America's participation in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are described as far as possible through our date of publication. The new drone war is also described. Obama's statements on the key question of when to use military force are contrasted with earlier statements by General Colin Powell and by Presidents Reagan, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. The final chapter on homeland security discusses the trade-offs between security and liberty, including surveillance by the National Security Agency, the activities of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FICA) Court, and the status of "enemy combatants" held at the United States prison and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


By Thomas R. Dye and Ronald Keith Gaddie

Politics is not a dull topic and textbooks should not make it so. We designed this book to challenge students to think and talk about controversial issues by integrating the basics of American government into our focus on conflict and controversy—the struggle for power.

Our framework is built on Harold Lasswell's classic definition of politics—"who gets what, when and how." The choice of Lasswell's approach is a tribute to its durability and its practicality as an approach to studying politics. "Who" are the voters, interest groups, politicians, and parties, all the potential beneficiaries of politics. "What" are the rewards gained from playing politics, whether it is a preferred law or policy, a tax break, a political position, or a position of power and influence. "When" is the timing of the payoff from politics. And "how" is the political means used to get what people get. With this as our central narrative, we examine the struggle for power: the participants, the stakes, the processes, and the institutions—in a way that provokes thinking and discussion. For the student, as a potential participant, we pose one last question: Do individuals and groups drive the politics, or are they steered by elites who control the groups, the institutions, the parties, and the media?

Politics in America is organized somewhat differently from other American politics textbooks. In Part 1, Politics, we start with an introduction to American politics from a Lasswellian perspective (who gets what?) and discuss the pluralist versus elitist approaches to politics. Then, in Chapter 2, we explore American political culture, including the sources of identity that reinforce political competition and political identity. In Part II, Constitution, Chapter 3 presents the founding and the framing of the Constitution and Chapter 4 describes the development of the federal form of government. In Part III, Participants, the text turns to an examination of the individual and group players in mass politics and the mediating institutions that connect the people to their government. Chapter 5 explores Public Opinion, followed by a series of chapters about the connective tissue of politics—the Media (Chapter 6), Political Parties (Chapter 7), Campaigns and Elections (Chapter 8), and Interest Groups (Chapter 9).

Then, in Part IV, Institutions, we turn to the formal constitutional institutions of the national government and their legally constituted agencies—the Congress (Chapter 10), the Presidency (Chapter 11), the Bureaucracy (Chapter 12), and the Courts (Chapter 13). These chapters explore these institutions, and also their interactions with each other and also their connections to parties, voters, the media, and the Constitution. In Part V, Outcomes, we explore the outputs of governments. Chapter 14 examines the role of government in defense (or violation) of personal liberties. Chapter 15 examines the increasingly complex development of law and policy related to Civil Rights, and explores the social movements that have expanded guarantees of rights.

Chapter 16 (the Economy), 17 (Social Welfare), and 18 (National Defense) examine major public policy areas to help students understand the relationship between the government spending in social and defense policy.

Politics in America presents balanced arguments on highly sensitive issues, including abortion, gun control, same-sex marriages, marijuana decriminalization affirmative action, race relations, and immigration reform. Each chapter contains a variety of special features designed to inspire discussion and controversy in the classroom:

  • Who's Getting What? Illustrates how political demands turn into government action, and examines how government picks beneficiaries (winners) and those excluded (losers) from public policy. This emphasis reflects the primary emphasis of Lasswell's pluralist approach to politics: Who benefits from the use of government power, and what do the get from the use of power.

  • A Conflicting View challenges students to rethink conventional wisdom in American politics, by asking them to question what we take for granted, such as obeying the law or keeping our existing voting systems, and to then consider how changing assumptions might change political winners and losers or the balance of power.

  • What Do You Think? Asks students to take sides on controversial questions, and to consider some of the questions currently confronting American politics. In doing so, students are able to identify the players who will benefit or bear costs from government action, and also consider what government action is required, or whether government action is really appropriate.

  • Compared to What? Provides a comparative perspective on many key elements of the American political system. These features contrast the institutions, systems, and behaviors to explore how power is wielded in disparate political systems, and how they either resemble or are distinct from the American case.

  • A Constitutional Note explains some constitutional dimensions of the topic of each chapter and examines the foundations and limits of constitutional grants of power to government.

Every chapter includes a marginal glossary to support students' understanding of new and important concepts at first encounter. For easy reference, key terms from the marginal glossary are repeated at the end of each chapter and in the end-of-book glossary.

Taken together, these features build on the core material of the text to provide relevant illustrations of different aspects of politics. They expand on the student's understanding of the values, institutions, players, and products of politics. They help introduce the science and practice of politics through the use of both stories and data, and by offering examples of politics in practice. In the process they ask the student to return to the central theme: Who has power? How do they use power? Who is reaping the benefits or footing the bill for the benefits of government action? And, how can the student, citizen, and voter influence politics in an increasingly pessimistic and cynical political environment? In the process, it is our goal for the student to realize that politics is something that they can influence, rather than something that is done to them.


Thomas R. Dye
550 Okeechobee Blvd. #1710
West Palm Beach, Florida 33401