Information Wars : party elites, think tanks and polarization in Congress




Fagan, Edward James

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For much of modern history, U.S. political parties adopted a consensus non-partisan knowledge regime, consisting of experts at universities, non-partisan think tanks and government agencies, to inform policymaking decisions. However, after the consensus supported by the knowledge regime enabled the expansion of the scope of federal government domestic policy during the 1950s-1970s period, ideological conservatives rejected the non-partisan regime and created their own alternative knowledge regime centered around a small number of party-aligned think tanks. Democrats followed a few decades later to create their own alternative knowledge regime. These think tanks fill a privileged role advising political parties that is reserved for formal party organizations in most democracies. I argue that they use a variety of strategies, including issue redefinition, activating latent preferences and elite persuasion, to move their party’s positions away from the center and toward the left or right. They published biased policy analysis that often makes claims which conflict with claims made by non-partisan policy analysis. As they become larger and more influential across time or between issues, party-aligned think tanks increase polarization in Congress.



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