4.8—Ideology & Policy Making

This section is the second half of the previous section on political ideologies. This section provides examples of how political ideologies shape the types of policies that are supported by the two major parties and policies passed and implemented by our government.

What you need to learn

How do political ideologies shape the type of policies and legislation supported by the two major parties?
(what’s more important in this section is paying attention to the process of how ideologies shape support or disapproval for policies and legislation. The examples provided are just examples).


-examples of how conservative & liberal ideologies support or refute proposed policies.


-examples of how conservative & liberal ideologies support or refute legislation.

Ideology and Policy Making

Widely held political ideologies shape policy debates and choices, including the government’s domestic, economic, and foreign policies. Policy is created and shaped by the federal government, even in small ways, such as when a member of Congress inserts language into a bill, when the president discusses relations with another head of state, when the U.S. Postal Service changes its delivery schedule, or when a court sets a precedent. The impetus for those policies, however, stems from Americans’ values, attitudes, and beliefs. These drive the formation, goals, and implementation of public policy over time.

Influences on Public Policy

Americans have a range of values, attitudes, and beliefs. These influence the development, goals, and implementation of public policy over time. Policies in place at any given time represent the success of the parties whose ideologies they represent and the political attitudes and beliefs of citizens who choose to participate in politics. Following are some of the key theories or pathways to policy. These differing pathways reflect some of the different types of democracy you read about in Topic 1.2, since the United States has elements of each of them.

Majoritarian Policy Making

Democratic government, a foundational principle in America, is meant to represent the people’s views through elected representatives. This principle is reflected through majoritarian policy making, which emerges from the interaction of people with government in order to put into place and carry out the will of the majority. Popular ideas will work their way into the body politic via state and national legislatures. A president seeking a second term may go with public opinion when there is an outcry for a new law or a different way of enforcing an existing law. State referenda and initiatives, too, are a common way for large grassroots efforts to alter current policy when state assemblies refuse to make laws that reflect the public will. These are examples of participatory democracy.

This democratic system sounds fair and patriotic. But the framers also put into place a republic of states and a system to ensure that the tyranny of the majority did not run roughshod over the rights of the minority. Additionally, the framers warned, factions-often minority interests-will press government to address their needs, and at times government will comply.

Interest Group Policy Making

Interest groups have a strong influence and interact with all three branches in the policy making process. They fund candidates who support their agendas, experts sympathetic to their concerns provide testimony at hearings, and they push for specific areas of policy to satisfy their members and their philosophy.

Interest groups represent a pluralist approach to policymaking. The interests of the diverse population of the United States, ethnically and ideologically, compete to create public policy that addresses as many group concerns as compromise allows.

Balancing Liberty and Order

No matter the approach to public policymaking, two underlying principles guide debate. One is the core belief in individual liberties. The other is the shared belief that one important role of government is to promote stability and social order. Policy debates are often an effort to find the right balance between these fundamental values. Governmental laws and policies balancing order and liberty are based on the Constitution and have been interpreted differently over time.

Formation of Policy

In creating policy, public officials follow a general routine. Legislators and bureaucrats develop and reshape an agenda-a list of potential policy ideas, bills, or plans to improve society. These could be new methods of law enforcement, alterations of the tax system, or a long-term plan to improve relations with a foreign nation. With each new policy idea comes a cost-benefit analysis, a full look into the efforts and sacrifice that come with a new policy compared to the benefits the new policy would bring. For example, building an overhead skywalk at every intersection would reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths, but the costs-the actual price, the disruption caused by their construction, the unsightliness, and pedestrian confusion from such a network of skywalks­ might outweigh the benefits.


Ideally, governments at all levels recognize an issue, study it, and try to solve it. First an issue gains attention. The attention may come from a widespread citizen push to ban smoking in public places, for example, or it may come from a defense contractor’s proposed design for new fighter jets. Once the issue becomes of public concern, Congress may exercise its investigatory power to better understand the issue. If interest in an issue reaches this stage, the relevant committee(s) will hear experts testify. Ideally, all sides of the issue and particular concerns about solving the problem will be heard.

Then, government formulates the policy on paper, whether it is a new bill or a new way for police to enforce existing law. As the topic is discussed in theory and the language of a bill or an executive directive is developed and refined, the government will work toward adopting the policy. Changes in law usually come incrementally, with the most passable ideas coming before any major overhauls.

Implementation and Administration

The government must also figure out a way to finance the enforcement of new laws. Each new policy requires the executive branch to enforce it, which means either creating an additional agency to oversee the law or giving more responsibilities to an existing one. Then, the government will evaluate the new policy sometime after its implementation. This evaluation could be achieved through required agency reports or with congressional oversight.

onents often file suit to overturn the law in the courts. Many times, a state legislature will pass a controversial bill with a marginal vote only to see the citizenry rise up and repeal it through a referendum. In Ohio, for example, the state legislature had passed a bill (Senate Bill 5) limiting collective bargaining for 400,000 state employees, preventing them from striking and limiting their ability to conduct collective bargaining for better pay and benefits. The bill was signed into law on March 31, 2011. Opponents of the law collected more than one million signatures to put the law on the ballot as a referendum. The voters repealed the law in November 2011. Policies, especially the wedge issues, will swing back and forth in relatively short periods of time.