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Budget Challenge Activity reflection

Complete the California Budget Challenge online at:

https://www.budgetchallenge.org/pages/home (Links to an external site.)

Reflect on how our readings/discussion thus far on policy tools and policy implementation played out during the Budget Challenge Activity.

What policy tools did you choose?

What were the potential political costs of certain policy tool choices?

How did those costs affect your decisions?

Social Construction of Target Populations: Implications for Politics and Policy
Author(s): Anne Schneider and Helen Ingram
Source: The American Political Science Review, Vol. 87, No. 2, (Jun., 1993), pp. 334-347
Published by: American Political Science Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2939044
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American Political Science Review
Vol. 87, No. 2 June 1993
7e argue
Arizona State University
University of Arizona
that the social
of target
is an important,
overlooked, political phenomenon that should take its place in the study of public policy by
V v political scientists. The theory contends that social constructions influence the policy
agenda and the selection of policy tools, as well as the rationales that legitimate policy choices.
Constructions become embedded in policy as messages that are absorbed by citizens and affect their
orientations and participation. The theory is important because it helps explain why some groups are
advantaged more than others independently of traditional notions of political power and how policy
designs reinforce or alter such advantages. An understanding of social constructions of target
populations augments conventional hypotheses about the dynamics of policy change, the determination of beneficiaries and losers, the reasons for differing levels and types of participation among target
groups, and the role of policy in democracy.

ontemporarypolitical scientists consider many
variables to be significantpolitical phenomena
that previously were viewed either as irrelevant or as the proper domain of another discipline.
The importance of gender in understanding political
behavior and the role of money and media in politics
are examples. Although the question of who benefits
or loses from policy has long been interesting to
political science, most other dimensions of policy
designs have been considered the purview of economists, lawyers, and other specialists. With the emergence of public policy as a major subfield of political
science, however, attention has turned to new aspects of the policy process, such as agenda setting,
formulation, implementation, and consequences,
(Arnold 1990; Ingram and Schneider 1991; Kingdon
1984;Lipsky and Smith 1989;Mazmanianand Sabatier 1983;Rose 1991;Smith and Stone 1988;Pressman
and Wildavsky 1973)as well as additionalelements of
policy design, such as goals, tools, rules and target
populations (Ingramand Schneider 1992;Linderand
Peters 1985; Ostrom 1990; Schneider and Ingram
1990a, 1990b; Stone 1988). We argue that the social
construction of target populations is an important,
albeit overlooked, political phenomenon that should
take its place in the study of public policy by political
The social constructionof target populations refers
to the culturalcharacterizationsor popular images of
the persons or groups whose behaviorand well-being
are affectedby public policy. These characterizations
are normative and evaluative, portraying groups in
positive or negative terms through symbolic language, metaphors, and stories (Edelman1964, 1988).
A great deal has been written (mostly by sociologists)
about social constructions of social problems (Best
1989; Spector and Kitsuse 1987). The more specific
topic of social construction of target populations is
importantto politicalscience because it contributesto
studies of agenda setting, legislative behavior, and
policy formulationand design, as well as to studies of
citizen orientation, conception of citizenship, and
style of participation.
Our theory contends that the social constructionof
targetpopulations has a powerful influence on public
officials and shapes both the policy agenda and the
actualdesign of policy. Thereare strong pressures for
public officialsto provide beneficial policy to powerful, positively constructed target populations and to
devise punitive, punishment-orientedpolicy for negatively constructed groups. Social constructions become embedded in policy as messages that are absorbed by citizens and affect their orientations and
participationpatterns. Policy sends messages about
what government is supposed to do, which citizens
are deserving (and which not), and what kinds of
attitudes and participatorypatterns are appropriate
in a democraticsociety. Differenttarget populations,
however, receive quite different messages. Policies
that have detrimentalimpacts on, or are ineffectivein
solving important problems for, certain types of target populations may not produce citizen participation
directed toward policy change because the messages
received by these target populations encourage withdrawal or passivity. Other target populations, however, receive messages that encourage them to combat policies detrimental to them through various
avenues of political participation.
The theory is important because it helps explain
why some groups are advantaged more than others
independently of traditional notions of political
power and how policy designs can reinforce or alter
such advantages. Further, the theory resolves some
long-standing puzzles political scientists have encountered in attempting to answer Lasswell’s question, “Who gets what, when, and how?” (Lasswell
1936).The theory returnspublic policy to center-stage
in the study of politics, offering an alternative that
Vol. 87, No. 2
American Political Science Review
goes beyond both the pluralist and the microeconomic perspectives.
A theory that connects social constructions of target
populations to other political phenomena needs definitions of target populations and of social constructions, an explanation of how social constructions
influence public officialsin choosing the agendas and
designs of policy, and an explanation of how policy
agendas and designs influence the political orientatioxisand participationpatternsof targetpopulations.
Conceptualizing Targets and Constructions
Targetpopulation is a concept from the policy design
literaturethat directs attention to the fact that policy
is purposeful and attempts to achieve goals by changing people’s behavior (see our earlier work, Ingram
and Schneider 1991). Policy sets forth problems to be
solved or goals to be achieved and identifies the
people whose behavior is linked to the achievement
of desired ends. Behavioral change is sought by
enabling or coercing people to do things they would
not have done otherwise. By specifying eligibility
criteria, policy creates the boundaries of target populations. Such groups may or may not have a valuebased culturalimage, however. Therefore, they may
or may not carry out any social construction.
The social constructionof a targetpopulation refers
to (1) the recognitionof the shared characteristicsthat
distinguish a target population as socially meaningful, and (2) the attribution of specific, valence-oriented values, symbols, and images to the characteristics. Social constructions are stereotypes about
particulargroups of people that have been createdby
politics, culture, socialization, history, the media,
literature, religion, and the like. Positive constructions include images such as “deserving,” “intelligent,” “honest,” “public-spirited,” and so forth.
Negative constructions include images such as “undeserving,” “stupid,” “dishonest,” and “selfish.”
There are a wide variety of evaluative dimensions,
both positive and negative, that can be used to
Social constructions are often conflicting and subject to contention. Policy directed at persons whose
income falls below the officialpoverty level identifies
a specific set of persons. The social constructions
could portray them as disadvantaged people whose
poverty is not their fault or as lazy persons who are
benefitting from other peoples’ hard work. On the
other hand, not all target populations even have a
well-defined social construction. Motor vehicle policies identify automobile drivers as a target population; but these persons have no particular social
construction, at this time. Policies directed at drunk
driversor teenage drivers, however, have identified a
subset that carriesa negative valence.
The actual social constructions of target groups, as
well as how widely shared the constructions are, are
matters for empiricalanalysis. Social constructionsof
target populations are measurable, empirical, phenomena. Data can be generated by the study of texts,
such as legislative histories, statutes, guidelines,
speeches, media coverage, and analysis of the symbols contained therein. Social constructions also can
be ascertained from interviews or surveys of policymakers, media representatives, members of the general public, and persons within the target group
One of the major contentions of some social constructionists(sometimes called strict-constructionists)
is that there is no objective reality but only the
construction itself (Spector and Kitsuse 1987, J.
Schneider 1985). Those who make this argument
contend that research should focus on the constructions, not on the reasons the constructions have
arisen or how constructions differ from objective
reality. The point of view adopted here, however, is
more like that expressed by Edelman (1988) and
Collins (1989). Target populations are assumed to
have boundaries that are empirically verifiable (indeed, policies create these empiricalboundaries) and
to exist within objective conditions even though
those conditions are subject to multiple evaluations.
One of the important issues for analysis is to understand how social constructionsemerge from objective
conditions and how each changes.
Social Constructions and Elected Officials
Researchhas uncovered a number of important motivations for elected officials (Arnold 1990; Kelman
1987;Kingdon 1984). Two of the most important are
to produce public policies that will assist in their
reelection and that will be effective in addressing
widely acknowledged public problems. Social constructions are relevant for both of these considerations.
Social constructions become part of the reelection
calculus when public officials anticipate the reaction
of the target population itself to the policy and also
anticipatethe reactionof others to whether the target
group shouldbe the beneficiary (or loser) for a particular policy proposal (Wilson1986).Thus, the electoral
implication of a policy proposal depends partly on
the power of the targetpopulation itself (construedas
votes, wealth, and propensity of the group to mobilize for action) but also on the extent to which others
will approve or disapprove of the policy’s being
directed toward a particulartarget.
The convergence of power and social constructions
creates four types of target populations, as displayed
in Figure 1. Advantaged groups are perceived to be
both powerful and positively constructed, such as the
elderly and business. Contenders, such as unions
and the rich, are powerful but negatively constructed, usually as undeserving. Dependents might
Construction of Target Populations
June 1993
Social Constructions and Political Power: Types of
Target Populations
The elderly
The rich
Big unions
Flag burners
include children or mothers and are considered to be
politically weak, but they carry generally positive
constructions. Deviants, such as criminals,are in the
worst situation, since they are both weak and negatively constructed. Public officials find it to their
advantage to provide beneficial policy to the advantaged groups who are both powerful and positively
constructed as “deserving”because not only will the
group itself respond favorably but others will approve of the beneficial policy’s being conferred on
deserving people. Similarly, public officials commonly inflict punishment on negatively constructed
groups who have little or no power, because they
need fear no electoralretaliationfrom the group itself
and the general public approves of punishment for
groups that it has constructed negatively. Figure 1
shows other examples of how a hypothetical elected
official might array a variety of target populations
within these dimensions.
Some social constructions may remain constant
over a long period of time, as have the prevailing
constructions of criminalsor communists;but others
are subjectto continual debate and manipulation.For
instance, persons with AIDS are constructedby some
as deviants, little better than criminalswho are being
punished through disease for their sins. The identificationof children, hemophiliacs, heterosexuals, and
MagicJohnson as victims, however, has made possible a different construction. Public officials realize
that target groups can be identified and described so
as to influence the social construction.Hence, a great
deal of the politicalmaneuveringin the establishment
of policy agendas and in the design of policy pertains
to the specificationof the target populations and the
type of image that can be created for them.
Social constructionsmay become so widely shared
that they are extremely difficultto refute even by the
small number of persons who might disagree with
them. Other constructions, however, are in contention. Officials develop maps of target populations
based on both the stereotypes they themselves hold
and those they believe to prevailamong that segment
of the public likely to become important to them.
Competing officialschampion differentconstructions
of the same groups. Some view minorities as oppressed populations and argue for policies appropriate to dependent people, whereas others portray
minorities as powerful special interests and not deserving of government aid. Politicaldebates may lead
elected officials to make finer and finer distinctions,
thereby subdividing a particular group into those
who are deserving and those who are not. Immigration policy, for example, distinguishes among illegal
aliens, refugees, migrantworkers, those seeking asylum, and highly skilled workers who receive waivers.
There has been no research on the social constructions of target populations from the perspective of
elected officials;thus, there is no way to speculate on
how Figure 1 actually should be drawn and how
much agreement there would be about the placement
of various groups.
Public officialsare sensitive not only to power and
social construction but also to pressure from the
public and from professionals to produce effective
public policies (Arnold 1990; Kelman 1987; Quade
1982). Public officials must explain and justify their
policy positions to the electorate by articulating a
vision of the public interest and then showing how a
proposed policy is logicallyconnected to these widely
shared public values (Arnold 1990; Habermas 1975;
Offe 1985). They need to have a believable causal
logic connecting the various aspects of the policy
design to desired outcomes.
Social constructions of target populations become
importantin the policy effectiveness calculusbecause
elected officials have to pay attention to the logical
connection between the target groups and the goals
that might be achieved. Elected officialsmay emphasize some goals rather than others because target
populations that they wish to benefit or burden have
credible linkages to the goals (Edelman 1988; Kingdon 1984). On the other hand, elected officials are
able to construct several different policy logics for
almost any problem they wish to solve. For example,
most would agree that reduction in the infant mortality rate in the United States is a worthy goal.
However, to achieve this, the United States could
provide direct health care benefits to high-risk pregnant women, it could mandate reductions in carcinogens that presumably increase risk, or it could
criminalize drug and alcohol use by pregnant
women. All of these could be justified as contributing
to a reduced infant mortalityrate;but they have very
different implications for target populations, especially pregnant women who could either be the
beneficiary of the policy or could bear exceptional
costs because of it. Economic vitality is another example of a widely shared public goal for which a
credible case could be made for policies that serve
American Political Science Review
Vol. 87, No. 2
ants will receive too little beneficial policy. Burdens
will become oversubscribed especially to deviants
and undersubscribedto the advantaged groups. For
public officialsto realize their ambitions of reelection
and the development of effective, public-oriented
policy, they have to take into account not only the
power and social constructions of target populations
but also the logical connection of the potential target
groups to the goals. Most of the time, public officials
try to bring these three factors into congruence. It is
important to notice that congruence is possible only
in two segments of the policy box shown in Figure 2.
One is to provide beneficial policy to powerful,
positively viewed groups who are logically connected
to an important public purpose. The second area of
congruence is found at the back of the box: to provide
punishment policies to negatively constructed, powerless groups, who are linked logically to a broader
public purpose. All other areas produce noncongruence of some type.
Powerful segments of the population who also
have relatively consensual positive social constructions (the advantaged groups) have considerablecontrol and will find it easy to get their issues on
legislative agendas. They will be the recipient of
much beneficial policy. Advantaged groups have the
resources and capacity to shape their own constructions and to combat attempts that would portray
them negatively. The easiest problems for elected
officials to address will be those for which advantaged segments of the population are the logical
recipients of beneficial policy. These groups will
receive beneficial policy, however, even if the causal
linkages to some ostensible common or public purpose lack credibility or are entirely absent. The advantaged groups will often be chosen as first-order
(proximate)targets even when others would be more
logical or efficient. Direct government subsidies to
large corporations, for example, have been granted
by governments for the ostensible purpose of increasing the number of jobs in the community, although
such funds may have created more jobs if directed
toward public-sector agencies with lower management salaries and overhead. Beneficialpolicy for the
advantaged groups will be oversubscribed in the
sense that there will be more positive rules and more
expenditures in this area than can be justified either
on technical grounds of policy effectiveness or on
representational grounds of policy responsiveness
that is proportional to the group’s size and other
political resources.
The attractivenessof policy directed toward powerless people with negative images (the deviants) is
surprisinglysimilarexcept that the deviants are punished and have almost no control over the agenda or
the designs. Policies will be high on the legislative
agenda, especially during election campaigns. Negatively constructed powerless groups will usually be
proximate targets of punishment policy, and the
extent of burdens will be greater (oversubscribed)
than is needed to achieve effective results. The negative social constructions make it likely that these
Variations in How Policy Treats Target
Populations: Allocation of Benefits and Burdens
High control;
Burdens are
Some control;:
Burdens are /
symbolic and overt

: 0
;:;; tODependents
No control;
Burdens are
No control
0 0 l. . .>
No control;
Note:Benefitsare shownon thefrontpartof the boxto eachtypeoftarget,
burdensare shownat the backofthe box.
widely divergent interests. Some policy options
would give direct benefits to jobless or low-income
persons, whereas other options would redistribute
wealth to the poor, thereby increasing demand for
products. Others would offer tax breaks, loans, or
outright grants to the owners of businesses to increase their competitive position or to entice them to
move into a location (or to retain those who are
threatening to leave). In almost any policy area there
are multiple logics that involve different target populations and/or different roles for target groups.
Thus, even when public officials are pursuing widely
held public interest goals, they are commonly able to
provide benefits to powerful, positively constructed
groups and burdens to less powerful, negatively
constructed ones.
Benefits, Burdens, and Target Populations
The dynamic interaction of power and social constructions leads to a distinctive pattern in the allocation of benefits and burdens to the different types of
target groups (Figure 2). The front of the box shows
how benefits are allocated, and the back shows the
allocation of burdens. Benefits are expected to become oversubscribed to advantaged populations (i.e.,
these groups will receive more beneficial policy than
is warranted either in terms of policy effectiveness or
representativeness), whereas dependents and devi-
June 1993
Construction of Target Populations
groups will often receive burdens even when it is
illogical from the perspective of policy effectiveness.
The highly predictable popularity of tough criminal
justice statutes over which deviants have no control,
such as the 1991 federal crime bill, are vivid illustrations of the political attractiveness of punishment
directed at powerless, negatively viewed groups.
Important public issues do not always permit
elected officials to find congruence among social
constructions, power, and logical connections to
goals; and problems cannot always be solved so
straightforwardly. Many officials care about outcomes and fear widespread public reaction against
ineffective policy, lack of attention to importantproblems, and too much favoritism to special interests.
They may confront these contradictions through
strenuous efforts to keep such issues off the agenda,
or they may manipulatethe image of target groups in
an effort to change their social construction. In some
instances, they simply bear the political costs of
inflicting burdens on positively viewed groups or
grantingbenefits to those who are negatively viewed.
Not uncommonly, public officials engage in private
politics or outright deception.
The case of powerful but negatively viewed groups
(the contenders) presents numerous problems. Public
officialswill prefer policy that grants benefits noticed
only by members of the target groups and largely
hidden from everyone else. They will prefer policies
that the public and media believe inflict burdens on
powerful, negative groups but that actuallyhave few,
if any, negative effects. Contenders have sufficient
control to blunt the imposition of burdens but not
enough power to gain much in terms of visible
benefits. Statutes directed toward these contending
groups will be complex and vague. It may be difficult
to discern from the statute who the policy favors or
hinders because discretion and responsibility will
often be passed on to lower-level agencies and governments. Context will become especially important.
For example, policy characteristicsfor contending
groups may depend on the extent of media and
public attention, as well as variationin the cohesiveness and activity of the target group. During times of
low public attention and high levels of group activity,
policy will tend to be beneficial, although relatively
low in visibility and still undersubscribedin terms of
what might be needed to actually solve particular
problems. When public attention increases (as it is
likely to do when an unpopulargroup is cohesive and
active), then policy may shift more toward the burdensome side.
For the dependent groups, such as children or
mothers, officials want to appear to be aligned with
their interests;but their lack of politicalpower makes
it difficultto direct resources toward them. Symbolic
policies permit elected leaders to show great concern
but relieve them of the need to allocate resources.
Policies in this area tend to be left to lower levels of
government or to the private sector. The benefits
dependents receive are passed down by other agents,
and dependents have little control over the design of
the policies. In the United States, women and children have dominated this category, with women
moving more toward a position of power (and less
positively viewed) as they have become more organized and more active in the economic sector; and
people in these groups have been viewed as the
responsibility of families, churches, and the private
sector. Feminist writers, in fact, view the artificial
separationof the public and private spheres as one of
the key problems faced by women in advanced
industrial democracies (agger 1983).
Another type of noncongruence occurs when legislators are attempting to inflict regulations or costs
on powerful, popular groups. These situations also
will be undersubscribedand highly contentious. For
example, it is difficultto generate support for burdensome regulations of positively viewed businesses
because the proximate target groups will oppose the
policies vigorously and argue that the chain of effects
is not likely to produce the desired results anyway; or
they may argue that other groups are more logical
targets and would have a greater impact and if
chosen. The secondary or remote target groups that
will presumablybenefit from the regulationsmay not
provide as much support as expected, because of the
uncertaintythat the cause-and-effectlogic within the
policy is correct(Arnold 1990). In a similarway, it is
difficultfor elected leaders to provide beneficial policy to the powerless, negatively viewed groups (such
as providing rehabilitationprograms for criminals),
despite the fact that these policies may be more
effective than those that involve punishment or may
be less costly than the death penalty, given the
extensive appeals that ensue. The electoral costs are
extensive, as it is a simple matter to accuse a public
officialof being “soft on crime.” Much of the beneficial policy achieved by the powerless, negatively
constructed target groups has been through court
actions and court mandates to ensure their rights.
Social Constructions and Policy Tools
The emerging literatureon policy design emphasizes
that the attributesof statutes, guidelines, implementation structures, and direct service delivery processes are important to an understanding of the
policy process. There is considerableinterest in why
some designs are chosen, rather than others, and
what differencesthese choices make in policy impacts
on target populations (Dryzek 1990; Ingram and
Schneider 1991; Linder and Peters 1985; Lipsky and
Smith 1989; Salamon and Lun 1989; Schneider and
Ingram 1990a; Smith and Stone 1988). The theory
advanced here contends that some elements of design (especially the policy tools and the policy rationales) will differ depending on the social construction
and political power of the target population.
Policy tools refer to the aspects of policy intended
to motivate the target populations to comply with
policy or to utilize policy opportunities (Schneider
and Ingram 1990b). For groups that are constructed
as deserving, intelligent, and public-spirited(as we
Vol. 87, No. 2
American PoliticalScience Review
expect the powerful, positively viewed groups to be),
the policy tools will emphasize capacity building,
inducements, and techniques that enable the target
population to learn about the results of its behavior
and take appropriate action on a voluntary basis.
When delivering beneficial policy to the advantaged
groups, certain types of capacity-buildingtools are
expected to be commonly used, especially direct
provision of such resources as entitlements or nonincome-tested subsidies, and also of free information,
training, and technical assistance. The political payoffs for providing beneficial policy to these groups is
such that outreach programs will be common: the
agencies will seek out all eligible persons and encourage them to utilize the policy opportunities that have
been made available (Ingramand Schneider 1991).
When burdens, ratherthan benefits, are directed at
the advantaged groups, the tools will be less predictable and more likely to change; but self-regulation
that entrusts the group to learn from its own behavior
and voluntarily take actions to achieve policy goals
will be preferred, along with positive inducements.
When these are not effective in inducing the desired
behavior, policies may shift toward “standards and
charges,” which do not stigmatize the organization
for its activities but simply attempt to discourage
certain actions (such as pollution) by charging for it.
Sanctions and force are not likely to be used in
connection with powerful, positively viewed groups.
Policy tools for dependent groups (such as mothers
or children) are expected to be somewhat different.
Subsidies will be given, but eligibility requirements
often involve labeling and stigmatizing recipients.
Subsidies to farmersdo not requireincome tests, for
example; but college students must prove that they
are needy and without resources. Outreachprograms
will be less common, and many programswill require
clients to present themselves to the agency in orderto
receive benefits. Welfare programs even for persons
perceived as deserving, such as college students, the
disabled, or the unemployed, usually do not seek out
eligible persons but rely on those who are eligible to
make their case to the agency itself.
Symbolic and hortatory tools will commonly be
used for dependent groups even when the pervasiveness of the problem would suggest that more direct
intervention is needed. Groups in the dependent
category will not usually be encouraged or given
support to devise their own solutions to problemsbut
will have to rely on agencies to help them. For
example, battered women still must rely mainly on
the police for assistance, ratherthan having self-help
organizationsthat are eligible as direct recipients for
government grants.
Another policy tool, the use of authority (defined
as statements that grant permission, prohibit action,
or requireaction)will be more common than with the
powerful, positively viewed groups, because dependents are not considered as self-reliant.The so-called
gag rule imposed by the Bush administration that
prohibitedfamily planning clinic personnel from providing informationabout abortion even when asked
directly’was an example of the more paternalistic
attributes of policy directed at dependent populations. Informationtools are likely to be used, even
when direct resources are needed (as in AIDS prevention programs).Public officialssimply do not like
to spend money on powerless groups and will use
other tools whenever possible.
The dominant tools for deviants (the target populations whose constructions place them in the powerless, negatively viewed part of the matrix) are
expected to be more coercive and often involve sanctions, force, and even death. In contrast with the
kinds of regulations used when advantaged populations are burdened, groups constructed as deviants
will be, at worst, incarceratedor executed. At best,
they will be left free but denied information,discouraged from organizing, and subjected to the authority
of others-including experts-rather than helped to
form their own self-regulatory organizations. For
example, gangs are more likely to be punished for
congregating than encouraged to direct their energy
toward constructive activities.
When beneficial policies are directed at deviant
groups, such as rehabilitationprograms, they ordinarily attempt to change the person through authoritarianmeans, ratherthan attackthe structuralproblems that are the basis of the problem itself. Drug
diversion programs,for example, will usually require
attendance and drug testing, and threaten participants with heavy penalties for failure to comply with
the rules.
Social Constructions and Policy Rationales
Rationales are important elements of policy design
because they serve to legitimate policy goals, the
choice of target populations, and policy tools. As
Habermas and Offe have noted, modern governments have a legitimation crisis and must explain
why democracies concentrate wealth and power in
the hands of the few ratherthan the many (Habermas
1975;Offe 1985).Governmentsattempt to resolve this
crisis through legitimation rationales that explain
how policies serve common ratherthan special interests (in spite of appearances). Rationalesjustify the
agenda, policy goals, selection of target populations,
and the tools chosen. The kinds of rationales differ
depending upon the social constructionof the target
population and can be used either to perpetuate or to
change social constructions.
For powerful, positively viewed groups, the rationales will commonly feature the group’s instrumental
links to the achievement of important public purposes, currently conceptualized in terms of national
defense and economic competitiveness. Justice-oriented rationales (e.g., equality, equity, need, and
rights) will be less common for this group. Efficiency
as a means for achieving the instrumental goals of
policy will be emphasized as the reason for the
selection of particular target groups and particular
tools. For example, federal science and technology
policy, which distributesmore than $75 billion annu-
June 1993
Construction of Target Populations
ally to large corporationsand universities, is justified
on the grounds of national defense and/or economic
competitiveness. The groups chosen are said to be an
efficient mechanism for ensuring the United States
maintainsits technologicaledge vis-A-visother countries.
Similarrationalesare used even when burdens are
being distributed.The close associationof the welfare
of these groups with the public interest is not challenged. Instead, groups may be told that they are not
being made relativelyworse off, comparedwith their
competitors and that all will gain in the long run.
Policies to control common-pool resource problems,
such as water and air, usually claim that it will protect
the resource for everyone and that the regulations
will prevent a single firm within their group from
gaining advantages and depleting the resource. In
those cases where it is impossible to construe a
burden as a benefit, then the rationalemay claim that
it is technically unavoidable if the common-interest
goals (e.g., national defense) are to be served. The
burden impinges on everyone, and it is not practical
to make an exception for the advantaged groups. The
advantaged are not being singled out, and they are
sacrificingfor the public good.
For contending groups (those that are powerful but
have negative constructions),the rationaleis sharply
different, depending on whether they are receiving
benefits or burdens. When they are receiving costs,
the public rationale will overstate the magnitude of
the burden and will construe it as a correction for
their greed or excessive power. On the other hand,
private communicationsmay suggest that the burden
is not excessive or will have little impact. In situations
where the burden is real, the group may be led to
believe that they did not have enough power or made
errors in their strategies. They may be told that the
policy was inevitable once public attention was directed to their privileged, powerful position. When
contending groups receive benefits, the rationales
will understate the magnitude of the gain, which is
made easier because the gains often are cloaked as
procedures that enable the group to have privileged
access to lower-level agencies or governments where
the elected officials will not be held accountable for
the groups’ gains. When the benefits are obvious and
can crediblybe linked to instrumentalgoals, such as
national defense, arguments will be made that it
would not be possible to achieve the goal without
also benefiting the group.
Rationales for providing beneficial policy to powerless groups seem to emphasize justice-oriented
legitimations, rather than instrumental ones. During
the past two decades, the interests of dependent
populations have seldom been associated with important national purposes. The association of justiceoriented rationales to dependent populations seems
to hold even when a case can be made linking the
policy to national goals such as economic development or national defense. Educationis a good example. In spite of strenuous effortsby educatorsto claim
that education is the fundamentalbasis for economic
competitiveness (and in spite of the logic of this
position), political leaders in the 1980s tended to
ignore this connection. Public education has been
justified in terms of equal opportunities-a rationale
that currently does not carry the same status as
instrumental ones. The values of American society
simply seem to favor instrumentalgoals over justiceoriented goals. It may be the case that instrumental
goals are given primacy mainly because this permits
policy to continue distributingbenefits to those who
are more powerful. Similarly, elected officials may
not want to use instrumentaljustificationsfor policies
that benefit less powerful people, even when it
would be perfectlylogical to do so, as this would then
requirelarger expenditures on such groups. Benefits
conferred on negatively viewed powerless groups,
such as criminals, are frequently argued as unavoidable in order to protect importantconstitutionalprinciples that confer rights on everyone. Sometimes
claims will be made, however, that beneficial policies
(e.g., rehabilitationfor criminals)are efficient mechanisms for achieving public safety. This argument is
difficult to sustain, however, because the public believes that these people deserve to be punished and
that rehabilitationpolicies will not work to reduce
crime. Part of the social constructionof these groups
is that they respond mainly to punishment.
Burdens for powerless groups who are positively
constructed, such as children, may be justified as an
efficient mechanism to protect the individual from
harm or to achieve public purposes. For powerful
groups, choices are limited only when there is no
other way to achieve certain goals. Persons in the
powerful groups are constructed as intelligent and
able to make good choices. Powerless groups are not
usually constructedthis way but are viewed as needing direction., “For her own good” is a common
reason given for incarcerating girls who have run
away from home or who are living with a boyfriend.
Child labor laws that removed choices from children
and their families were done to protect the children.
Messages, Orientations, and Participation
The agenda, tools, and rationales of policy impart
messages to target populations that inform them of
their status as citizens and how they and people like
themselves are likely to be treated by government.
Such informationbecomes internalizedinto a conception of the meaning of citizenship that influences
their orientations toward government and their participation. Policy teaches lessons about the type of
groups people belong to, what they deserve from
government, and what is expected of them. The
messages indicate whether the problems of the target
population are legitimate ones for government attention, what kind of game politics is (public-spiritedor
the pursuit of private interests), and who usually
Citizens encounter and internalize the messages
not only through observation of politics and media
coverage but also through their direct, personal ex-
Vol. 87, No. 2
American Political Science Review
Policy Design Impacts on Different Target Populations
your own personal
with disrespect or
in conflictwith
others’ interests
withfear or caution
helpless, needy
the responsibilityof
the privatesector
with pity
suspicious, vigilant
disinterestedpassive angry,oppressed
privateresponsibility personal
more important
involvingraw use of
power and
abusive of power
and fixed
agency outreach
targets subvert
good, intelligent
Governmentshould treat with respect
coincide withthe
Towardown interests
not legitimate
on government
open, fair,winnable
for conventionalforms
for disruptiveforms
for privateprovisions
of services
periences with public policy. These experiences tell
them whether they are viewed as “clients” by government and bureaucracies or whether they are
treated as objects. Experiencewith policy tells people
whether they are atomized individuals who must
deal directly with government and bureaucracy to
press their own claims or participantsin a cooperative
process joining with others to solve problems collectively for the common good. Citizen orientations
toward government impinge on their participation
The personal messages for the positively viewed,
powerful segments of society are that they are good,
intelligent people (Table 1). When they receive benefits from government, it is not a special favor or
because of their need but because they are contributing to public welfare. For these groups, reliance on
government is not a signal that they cannot solve
their own problems. Governmentappearsresponsive
to them, and a clearmessage is sent through the tools
and rationales that their interest coincide with the
public interest. Policies often involve outreach and
seldom require needs tests; thus the advantaged do
not see themselves as claimants or as dependent on
government. Instead, they are a crucial part of the
effort to achieve national goals, such as national
defense or economic vitality. When they are regulated, they examine rationalesclosely to see whether
burdens are equitably allocated and whether their
sacrificeis truly necessary for a public purpose. When
other groups are singled out for benefits, especially
those who are less powerful or negatively constructed, they tend to believe that the government is
on the wrong track. Advantaged groups are quick to
sense favoritism whenever groups other than themselves receive benefits.
Advantaged groups are positively oriented toward
policy and politics, so long as government continues
to be favorabletoward them (which becomes difficult
in a troubled economy). Experiences with policy
teach them that government is important, politics is
usually fair, government can be held responsible for
producing beneficial policy, there are payoffs from
mobilizing and supporting government officials. The
game can be won within the rules. The powerful,
popular groups are active participantsin traditional
ways, such as voting, interest group activity, campaign contributions and so forth. When policies are
ineffective, especially when there are sustained periods of economic problems, they blame government
ratherthan themselves and they mobilize for change.
When government no longer benefits them, these
groups are likely to organize and devise private
alternatives to public services, such as private
schools, security systems, mental health services,
and so on. And, they objecteven more strenuously to
Construction of Target Populations
June 1993
government regulation or to government providing
benefits to others. As they increasingly provide services for themselves, they withdraw support for
government provision of such services to others,
thereby contributingto an ever-widening gulf in the
quality of life experiencedby the haves and have-nots
in modern American society.
Contenders receive differentmessages. Policy tells
them that they are powerful, but they will be treated
with suspicion rather than respect. Their power is
meaningful only when accompanied by a strategy
that will hide the true effects from public view.
Politics is highly contentious; no one will take care of
them except themselves. Thus, they must use power
to pursue their own interests. Contenders realize that
conflict is common. They must be constantly vigilant
and calculating to insure that government serves
their ends. They believe that government is not really
interested in solving problemsbut in wielding power.
The difference between the public and private messages that government sends to these groups teaches
them that government is not to be trusted. Private
power is more important than public interests and
rationales are simply subterfuge rather than valid
arguments justifying the distribution of benefits and
costs. Politics is a corrupt game; winners have successfully used power and may have not stayed within
the rules of the game. Participation patterns tend
toward the use of informalmeans, such as the use of
influential connections and campaign contributions.
Participationmay disregardthe rules or laws; manipulation and subterfuge are common.
The messages to dependents are that they are
powerless, helpless, and needy. Their problems are
their own, but they are unable to solve them by
themselves. Policy teaches them that it is not in the
public’s interest to solve their problems, and they get
attention only through the generosity of others. To be
forced to depend upon a safety net means one is not
much of a player. The tools and rationalesimply that
government is responsive to them only when they
subject themselves to government and relinquish
power over their own choices. Income testing and the
typical requirement that they must apply to the
agency for benefits (rather than being sought out
through outreach programs) require them to admit
their dependency status. Even when beneficialpolicy
is provided, it is accompaniedby labeling and stigma.
Policy sometimes attempts to overcome negative
stereotyping by replacing one label with another,
such as using disabledinstead of handicapped,
itself, was used as a replacement for crippled.Unfortunately, stigma often catches up with the new label.
Information programs that rely on propaganda and
stereotypes for effectiveness primarily reinforce the
prevailing social constructions. Effortsto reduce the
spread of HIV by appealing to young black males
through sport figures such as Magic Johnson may
reinforce the image of young blacks as sexually promiscuous.
The messages result in orientationstoward government characterizedby disinterest and passivity. In
contrast with the advantaged groups, the powerless
(even when positively constructed) do not see their
interests as coinciding with an important public goal
and, instead, tend to buy into the idea that their
problems are individual and should be dealt with
through the private sector. They may view the claims
of others, especially the powerful advantaged
groups, as being more legitimate than their own. The
game of politics is a bureaucraticgame where they
wait in line and eventually get what others want
them to have. Participationis low and conventional,
but their primary form of interaction with government is as applicants or claimants who are applying
for services to a bureaucracy.
Persons who are both powerless and negatively
constructed will have mainly negative experiences
with government, but differences in the tools and
rules will lead to different messages from those
received by other groups. The dominant messages
are that they are bad people whose behavior constitutes a problem for others. They can expect to be
punished unless they change their behavior or avoid
contact with the government. Accordingly, these
people often fail to claim government benefits for
which they are eligible. On the other hand, government often is unable to catch them for their misdeeds
and commonly fails to punish even when individuals
are apprehended. Thus, government appears to be
arbitrary and unpredictable. The rule of law and
justice have no meaning. Orientationswill be those of
angry and oppressed people who have no faith in
government’s fairness or effectiveness. They see
themselves as alone and as individual players who
have no chance of winning in a game that they view
as essentially corrupt. Conventional forms of participation such as voting, running for office, and interest
group activity will be viewed as irrelevant (even if
they are eligible) because government belongs to
someone else. Participation,when it occurs, is likely
to be more disruptive and individualized, such as
riots and protests. As with the contenders, the deviants are more inclined to break the rules of participation.
The Dynamics of Social Constructions
Social constructions are manipulated and used by
public officials, the media, and the groups themselves. New target groups are created, and images
are developed for them; old groups are reconfigured
or new images created. One of the most interesting
questions is whether inherent contradictionswithin
the policy process itself will lead to cyclicalpatternsof
corrections in the over- and undersubscription to
different target groups.
One possibility is that beneficial policy becomes
increasingly oversubscribed to the advantaged
groups, with a corresponding decline in resources
available for policy that actually will be effective in
achieving public purposes. Government can be expected to continue putting forth justifications claim-
American PoliticalScience Review
Vol. 87, No. 2
ing that providing benefits to advantaged groups
serves broader public interests, but the credibilityof
these explanations will decline for several reasons.
First, personal experiences of ordinary citizens will
lead many to realize that policy is ineffective in
solving problems, or important problems are not
even being addressed, or that the designs of policies
are illogical and not actually intended to serve the
stated goals. Personal observation and experience
will also verify that the democraticimage of equality
is too far at odds with the actual distribution of
benefits, influence, power, and the like. It becomes
difficult to continue constructing groups that are
overly advantaged in a positive light; similarly, it
becomes difficult to continue pretending that the
most important goals of society exclude benefits to
the growing numbers of seriously disadvantaged
groups, particularlywhen ordinary citizens encounter these people, such as the unemployed, in their
daily routines.
In addition to personal experiences, another impetus for doubting the prevailing rationales may be
forthcomingfrom the images portrayedby the media,
movies, literature,music, and other carriersof social
constructions. These respond to many stimuli, including the creativeimaginations and criticalskills of
artists, writers, journalists, academics, and others.
Carriersof social constructionsmay begin to portray
the advantaged segments as greedy, rather than
deserving. Dramaticevents will often serve as catalysts for changes in social constructions. When powerful, positively viewed groups become construed
negatively, the dynamics of policy change dramatically. Some of the previously advantaged groups are
displaced into a negatively constructed group that
will not be able to garner as much beneficial policy.
Other groups that were previously negatively constructed or who had not previously exercised power
proportionate to their size (because of the social
constructions)may move into the positively viewed,
powerful segment. If so, understandings of the public interest may shift to those closer to the interests of
previously disadvantaged persons.
The political advantages for inflicting punishment
upon powerless, negatively viewed groups are so
great that this area also will become oversubscribed
and extended to ever-largersegments of the population. It is likely that certainkinds of behavior, such as
the use of alcohol or other drugs, will be proscribed
simply because the groups who are heavy users are
negatively constructed and lack sufficient power to
oppose the policies. As these prohibited behaviors
spread to more powerful and more positively constructed groups, however, they will eventually reach
a number of people whose experiences will not
permit them to buy into the messages that they are
bad and undeserving people. When common behaviors of large numbers of ordinary people become
subject to negative stereotyping and punishment is
threatened, the expected acquiescence is unlikely.
Instead, these groups may refuse to accept the neg-
ative social constructions, mobilize, and engage in
widespread political participation,including conventional forms, as well as disruptive behavior such as
demonstrations or riots. The cycles of disruptive
politics in the United States such as occurred in the
1930s and 1960s may be explained by this dynamic
In a relativelyopen, democraticsociety, these phenomena might produce pendulumlikecycles of policy
that distributebenefits and burdens to differingsegments of the population, so that the advantages
enjoyed by the powerful, positively viewed groups
do not escalatein a linear fashion but are occasionally
pulled back. Similarly,the oppressiveness of policy to
deviant groups may not continually escalatebut may
reverse direction toward more benign postures.
On the other hand, there may be no inherent
dynamic that produces a cyclical pattern. Changes
may be unrelated to the prevailing distribution of
advantages and, instead, depend upon opportunities, unexpected dramatic events, and the skills of
those who manipulateimages and constructions.Still
a third possibility is that the advantaged continue to
gain at the expense of others and that more and more
groups are constructed as deviants and subject to
punishment. This process is not self-correcting,because social constructions become increasingly important and difficultto refute (Edelman 1988). Thus,
they are manipulated and used to build support for
the increasingly uneven allocation of benefits and
burdens by government.
An understanding of social constructions makes important contributions to many different issues in
political science, three of which will be discussed
here: Who benefits and who loses from government
action? Who participates?and What is the effect of
policy on democracy?
Beneficiaries and Losers
The framework makes an important contribution to
the issue of which groups will benefit from policywhy powerful groups do not always win-and offers
a compelling explanation for the prominent role
played by punishment in the United States political
process. A great deal of researchby politicalscientists
has verified that policy often reflects the interests of
powerful constituent groups. Theories of self-interested behavior by the groups combined with reelection motivations by elected officials offer possible
explanations. As a number of authors have pointed
out, however, policy often serves public interests
(more commonly than is usually acknowledged by
politicalscience), which is far more difficultto explain
(Arnold 1990;Kelman 1987). Arnold’s theory is that
public officials develop strategies based on expectations of how the public will react and that they
believe that their opponents and the media can easily
June 1993
Constructionof Target Populations
arouse the inattentive publics by focusing on policy
failures or other errors in judgment. Thus, policy
directed solely to the benefit of powerful groups
could become a major campaign liability. Arnold
anticipates the importance of social constructions of
target populations when he notes that politically
repellent options “also include programs for which
citizens have little sympathy for the affected groups”
(1990, 80). Kelman simply asserts that public spiritedness is as important a motivation for behavior as
self-interest. Thus, elected officials are motivated
sometimes by self-interest, producing policies benefiting powerful groups in the constituency but sometimes by public spiritness, producing good public
policy that serves general interests (Kelman 1987).
Social constructions make an important contribution to these explanations. Social constructions of
target populations help explain the kinds of issues
that opponents and media can exploit, namely, any
policy that confers benefits on negatively constructed
groups (as is illustrated in the Willy Horton ads) or
policies that conferburdens on positively constructed
groups. The tensions createdby noncongruityamong
social constructions, power, and logical relationships
create many situations in which elected leaders will
distributebenefits and burdens outside the dictates of
power. Furthermore,social constructions are essential to an explanation of the politics of punishment,
which wins no votes among the recipients of punishment and appears to accomplish few, if any, positive
Who Participates?
One of the enduring issues in politicalscience is why
participation is so low and uneven. Many have
pointed out that the groups who stand to gain the
most from political action, such as the poor and
minorities, often fail to mobilize and, in fact, have the
lowest rates of participation. Some theorists have
examined the importanceof structuralimpediments,
such as voting registrationrules; others have emphasized that the typical political agenda may be irrelevant to the disadvantaged groups or that the disadvantaged may find it difficultto recognize their own
interests as being sufficiently distinct to warrant active participation(Gaventa 1980;Piven and Cloward
1988). Some criticaltheorists have suggested that the
wants and desires of disadvantaged groups are manipulated by the powerful through appeals to symbols, thereby leading to quiescence (Gaventa 1980;
Luke 1989). Others have advanced the theory that
politics becomes increasingly technical and that government offers complex, technical explanations for
policy designs that are beyond the comprehension of
everyone except the experts (Fischer1990;Habermas
1975; Hawkeswork 1988). The result is a depolitization of society and a withdrawal of citizens from
political discourse and activity.
The concept of social construction of target populations helps explain how and why these linkages
occur. Policy is an important variable that shapes
citizen orientations and perpetuates certain views of
citizenship that are in turn linked to differential
participation among groups. Groups portrayed as
dependents or deviants frequently fail to mobilize or
to object to the distributionof benefits and burdens
because they have been stigmatized and labeled by
the policy process itself. They buy into the ideas that
their problemsare not public problems, that the goals
that would be most important for them are not the
most important for the public interest, and that
government and policy are not remedies for them.
They do not see themselves as legitimate or effective
in the public arena, hence their passive styles of
participation.In contrast, the advantaged groups are
reinforced in pursuing their self-interests and in
believing that what is good for them is good for the
country. They can marshal their resources and use
them to gain benefits for themselves, all the while
portraying themselves as public-spirited. Others do
not object, and in fact, support such policies, because
they accept the goals that benefit the advantaged
groups and believe these groups are deserving of
what they get. Social constructions enhance their
power, whereas it detracts from the power of the
disadvantaged groups.
Policy and Democracy
Social constructions of target populations are crucial
variables in understanding the complex relationship
between public policy and democratic governance.
The theory presented here is an extension of the work
of Lowi, Wilson, and others who are interested in
how policy affects democracy. It offers explanations
for some of the incorrectpredictions from Lowi and
Wilson’s typologies and implies different prescriptions about what is needed for policy to serve democraticroles in society (Barber1984;Lowi 1964, 1972,
1985;Wilson 1973, 1986).
Lowi popularized the idea that “policy creates
politics,” turning political science away from its almost exclusive attention to how “politics creates
policy.” His concern was to identify the attributesof
policy that encourage affected people (or groups) to
mobilize, to make their preferences clear, and to
ensure that policy reflects compromises among competing interests rather than the influence of a small
number of elites. Lowi’s typology was based on two
dimensions: whether the probability of coercion is
low (benefits distributed) or high (costs distributed)
and whether the policy identifies specific targets or
consists of general rules that impinge on the environment of the target groups. These two dimensions
produce four types of policy-distributive, regulatory,
redistributive,and constituent-of which only one,
regulatory,produces politicalactivitiesresemblingan
open, competitive model of pluralist democracy. All
of the others, he argued, encourage some type of
elitism. Wilson’s typology also was developed to
explain how and why different kinds of policies
Vol. 87, No. 2
American Political Science Review
produce different kinds of politics. His typology
pluaccounted for four types of politics: majoritarian,
ralist, elitist, and client, depending on whether the
benefits and costs are concentrated or dispersed
(Wilson 1986).
Social constructions add to both these theories in
several ways. Lowi was especially opposed to distributive policy arenas, which are characterizedby distribution of beneficial policy directly to constituent
groups, because these tend to produce a pattern of
mutual noninterference and sub rosa decision making in which only the few participate and only the
few are served (Lowi 1979). Social constructions add
to this by explaining why some groups are regularly
singled out for distributivepolicy, whereas others are
not. It is not simply a matter of power, assessed in
traditionalways such as size, wealth, cohesion, and
the like. Nor is it simply a matter of concentrated
benefits and dispersed costs, as Wilson’s typology
suggests. Distributive policy is most likely to be
directed at target populations that are both powerful
and positively constructed. When unpopular groups,
including those that are powerful, are targeted for
distributivepolicy, Lowi’s predictions of low conflict
and mutual noninterference are usually incorrect.
Instead, opposition emerges, so that the policy arena
resembles the one Lowi characterizedas redistributive or regulatory.When groups that lack power but
have positive constructions are targeted for distributive policy, opposition also will emerge. In addition,
some regulatorypolicy does not produce opposition
(as Lowi’s theory suggested) but is met instead with
general approval. Lowi’s typology clustered social
regulation (e.g., crime policy) with business regulation because both inflict coercion on general categories of people. Yet, punishment-oriented crime policies are almost never met with the type of pluralist
opposition that characterizesbusiness regulatorypolicy.
Social constructionsalso help explain anomalies in
predictions from Wilson’s theory. For example, welfare policies are characterizedby concentratedbenefits and dispersed costs-the type of policy that
Wilson contended will continually expand, because
those who benefit will mobilize, whereas those who
pay (the taxpayers) will not. Thus, elected officials
who are motivated by reelection will be unable to cut
or reduce these kinds of policies. Social constructions
help explain why (and when) elected officials will
find it easy to cut welfare policies, as has happened in
many states during the past decade when the poor
were constructed as lazy or shiftless and were often
believed to be minorities who were responsible for
their own plight.
For Lowi, policies that serve broad public purposes
contain a clear rule of law applicableto broad categories of people and contain clear and consistent directives are most likely to produce an environment in
which democracy can flourish. Yet as Ginsberg and
Sanders point out, such laws dignify and empower
only the individuals who know what the law is and
can effectively challenge arbitraryand unjust treatment (1990,564-65). Powerful, positively constructed
groups continue under such policies to be reinforced
in the belief in their own deservedness and association of their self-interest with the general interest.
Groups negatively socially constructed will continue
to see government as a source of problems, rather
than solutions, and participation as an irrelevant
activity. True empowerment and equality would occur only if all target populations had social constructions that were positive and only if all have power
relatively equal to their numbers in society.
A theory of the social constructions of target populations is also relevant to an understandingof policy
failure in the technical sense of policy that is not
effective or efficient. Policy scientists have typically
blamed policy failures on illogical linkages in the
policy design and have blamed these illogicalconnections on elected officialswho pay too much attention
to powerful interest groups and not enough attention
to experts (Brewerand deLeon 1983;Quade 1982). A
theory of the social constructionof targetpopulations
makes it clear that policies are not technicallyillogical
simply because of political power considerations.
Social constructions are crucial to understanding
which policies are most likely to be illogical. Social
constructions impinge on all aspects of design, including selection of goals, targets, tools, and implementation strategies. Experts do not escape social
constructions,either;and the constructionsthey hold
color which goals they think are importantand which
targets they believe are the most logically connected
to the goals. The tools that experts think will motivate
the targets rest on assumptions about behavior that
are influenced by social constructions. The rationales
that the experts believe will make the policy palatable
to affected groups imply particularsocial constructions of those groups. Thus, social constructions (as
well as power) influence the logic of policy, and
expertise does not negate the influence of constructions on policy design even in highly nonpolitical
One of our fundamentalcontentions is that policies
that fail to solve problems or represent interests and
that confuse, deceive, or disempower citizens do not
serve democracy. Policy designs that serve democracy, then, need to have logical connections to important public problems; represent interests of all
impinged-on groups; and enlighten, educate, and
empower citizens. Policy should raise the level of
discourse. Given the electoral dynamics described
here, however, it is not likely that policy will be
designed to achieve all three of its democraticroles
unless the power of target populations is made more
equal and social constructionsbecome less relevantor
more positive. In other words, the only groups in the
policy typology for which policy is likely to serve
democratic roles are the powerful, positively constructed groups. Until all groups are so situated,
policy will continue to fail in its democraticmission.
June 1993
Constructionof Target Populations
Barber, Benjamin. 1984. Strong Democracy. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Politicalscientists should include the social construction of target populations among the political phenomena to which they devote their research. Social
constructions are political in the sense that they are
related to public discourse and are manipulated
through hortatory and symbolic language generally
regarded as political. Further,while not discussed in
detail here, social constructions are measurable
through familiarsurvey methods, as well as historical
and textual analysis.
Social constructionsof targetpopulations help provide better answers to Lasswell’s (1936) enduring
question, Who get what, when, and how? Conventional political science hypotheses about the characteristics that determine groups’ influence in setting
policy agendas and influencing policy content become significantly more robust when augmented by
assessments of social constructions. Further, understanding social construction of target populations
helps to explain how elected officials behave and
why, in some circumstances, officials will support
policy provisions that distributebenefits at odds with
their apparent self-interest, as determined by their
assessment of interest group and constituency opinion. The concept facilitates a much more sophisticated assessment than has so far taken place concerning the extent to which public officialsare motivated
to solve substantive problems, as well as build and
maintain political support.
The inclusion of social constructionsof target populations resolves some of the differencesamong theories that relate characteristicsof policies to patterns
of policymaking,including those of Lowi and Wilson.
Social constructions of targets help us to understand
the dynamics of policy change, even in policy arenas
such as the distributive one (which previous theory
predicts will be stable).
Concern with social constructions of target populations amplifies the justification for political scientists to study policies and strengthens their credentials as policy analysts. Social constructionof targets
contributes to an increasingly rich elaborationof the
characteristicsor elements of policy and their effects,
which go beyond earlier preoccupation with costs
and benefits to include messages about citizenship
and government. The impact of policies upon target
populations’ perceptions of democracy, inclination
toward participation,and willingness to comply with
policy directives is clearly an appropriatesubject for
political science analysis. The boundaries of the political science field, which are fluid and constantly
changing, must be redrawn to include this promising
political concept.
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Assumptions of Policy Tools.” Journal of Politics 52:511-29.
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Anne Schneider is Professor of Political Science and Dean of College of Public
Programs, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-0803.
Helen Ingram is Professor of Political Science, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
0.11 in
Lowi’s (1964) typolgy◦ distributive, redistributive, and regulatory
Ripley and Franklin’s update◦ Protective regulatory and competitive regulatory
Other typologies (substantive and procedural,
material and symbolic, public and private
goods, liberal and conservative)
Grant some benefit to a particular interest
group or other small, well defined group.
Costs are not deeply felt by another group in
Typically created with low/no political conflict
â—¦ Ex: farm subsidies, federal funds for local
infrastructure (dams, airports, highways, schools)
Distributive policies allow for negotiation and
distribution of benefits among members of
Credit for bringing resources back to the
district through pork-barrel spending
Members of Congress negotiate and trade
votes (logrolling)
Policy making is easy because costs are
broadly spread across society and
beneficiaries aren’t easily indentified and
Policies are portrayed as “good for local
communities” and a way of bringing home a
community’s “fair share” of federal taxes.
Give benefits to one group while seeming to
impose a discernable cost on another group
“intended to manipulate the allocation of
wealth, property, personal or civil rights, or
some other values item among social classes
or racial groups”
â—¦ Ex: welfare, civil rights, aid to inner city schools
Perception is key- Benefits being redistributed
are not only tangible resources, but rights.
â—¦ (ex: Whites perceived they would somehow become
losers if Blacks won the right to vote)
Highly contentious and difficult to pass
because less powerful groups must prevail
over or convince powerful interests
Redistributive policies can also transfer
resources from those less well off to those
better off.
â—¦ Ex: tax cuts
Policies intended to govern the conduct of
Competitive Regulatory Policy- limits the
provision of goods or market participation to
a select group.
â—¦ Ex: allocation radio and television frequencies,
cable television franchises, regulation of trades and
professions (law, medicine, electricians and
plumbers, etc.)
Little public scrutiny
Often made a state level
Protective Regulatory Policy- regulates some
activity for the protection of the public
â—¦ Ex: pollution, consumer product safety, business
Often resisted by business due to concerns
about profit margins and outside competition
Highly contentious and often visible due to
business resistance
Substantive and Procedural Policies
Procedural Policy- Policies establishing the
procedures by which government can act.
Substantive Policy- Policies that actually
provide goods and services
Material and Symbolic Policies
Symbolic Policies- appeal to people’s values
without any resources or actual effort behind
them (ex: DARE, flag burning policies)
Material Policies- Policies that provide
material (tangible) benefits to people
The process by which policies are designed,
both through technical analysis and through
the political process, to achieve a particular
Policy design and policy implementation are
not easily separated.
Policy Design
Policy Outcomes
The policy process continues during design
and implementation, as different agencies
have to interpret what new policies allow or
require them to do.
Translating legislation into agency rules and
regulation can be difficult and very
In the policy process, outputs are:
A) the things the policy process produces
(laws, regulations, rules, etc), and
B) the effort government expends to address
problem (staff hours, money, etc.)
Outcomes are the result of policy implementation.
Outcomes may be intended or unintended, positive
or negative.
Many agencies focus on measuring outputs
as opposed to outcomes because:
A) it is easier
B) it can be less politically risky
C) it can be difficult to establish causal ties
between policies and outcomes without a
good causal model.
Causal Model
Policy Tools
Policy Targets
Stone’s four categories of
policy goals:
â—¦ Equity
â—¦ Efficiency
â—¦ Security
â—¦ Liberty
Stone argues that these
goals often conflict with
one another- more of one
means less of another
Security vs. liberty,
Efficiency vs. other goals
Equity: the practice of treating people the
same regardless of their race, ethnicity,
gender, etc.
Stone offers 8 ways to think about equity“equal” division of resources can be justified
in many ways.
Ex: in the US we support equal opportunity
(with no guarantee of equal outcomes). Other
industrialized countries’ policies focus on
equal outcomes.
Efficiency- gaining the most output for a given
level of input.
Efficiency is actually a means to a goal, but in the
US context, efficiency is often touted as a goal in
and of itself.
Arguments to “increase efficiency” often more
successful politically than arguments against the
substance of a policy. (ex: cutting “admin” costs)
Stone argues that the polis is more complex than
the market, so market concepts do not always
The more security one desires from government,
the more liberty one must be willing to surrender.
Hobbes: Humans naturally want to acquire things
for themselves (even using violence). We have
surrendered many liberties to the state so it
protects us from each other.
Locke: we consent to be governed, and only
surrender those things we believe government
should manage in order to maintain civil society.
We maintain many freedoms until we break the
law- then our liberty can be taken.
Policy goals can be a source of conflict
Agreement on goals but disagreement on
Disagreement on goals due to “fuzzy” policy
Conflict with goals in other policy areas (ex:
immigration policy vs. international relations
or economic policy)
What are the goals of a policy?
â—¦ To eliminate a problem? (ex: terrorism policy)
â—¦ To alleviate a problem but not eliminate it entirely?
(ex: clean water, unemployment)
â—¦ To keep a problem from getting worse?
These differences add to the complexity of
understanding policy goals.
Causal Model
Policy Tools
Policy Targets
Causal Theory- a theory
about what causes a
problem and what
intervention would alleviate
that problem.
Developing causal theories
about social problems is
Using the wrong theory, no
policy is likely to have a
positive impact on a social
Is a social problem caused by:
â—¦ An act of God or acts of humans?
â—¦ Purposive acts or negligence?
Think about this in reference to Hurricane Katrina
Policy is most effective in addressing problems
caused by purposive human acts. It may be
entirely ineffective in addressing acts of God.
The causal theories we believe dictate what
we do- and what we believe we have the
capacity to do- in response to policy
What are some different causal theories we
can apply to homelessness? Climate change?
Terrorism? How would our policy approaches
differ based on each causal theory?
Causal Model
Policy tools may be coercive
or noncoercive
â—¦ Coercive tools offer more
compliance, but more
expensive and often less
Policy Tools
Policy Targets
Policy Tool: “a method
through which government
seeks a policy objective”
(Salamon and Lund)
Choice of policy tools is
constrained legally and
ideologically (ex: terrorism
Nature of Gov’t
Structure of
Delivery system
Degree of
Degree or
• Outright money payments
∙ Legal protections
• Provision of goods & services (including info.)
• Restrictions/penalties
• Direct (by federal gov’t)
• Indirect (by other level of gov’t or private actor )
• Centralized (usually direct service provision)
• Decentralized (usually indirect service provision)
• Automatic/ self-executing (ex: tax incentives)
• Detailed administration (ex: welfare or disability)
Policy Tool
Law Law, regulation
Services Direct provision of goods and service
Money Transfer payments,
intergovernmental grants, contracts,
benefits, general expenditures, etc.
Criminal law,
environmental law, antitrust law
Postal service, air traffic
control, weather
SS, veteran’s benefits,
private contracts,
personnel, supplies
Taxes Tax credits, tax deductions, taxes to
discourage consumption, taxes to
encourage development
Other Loans, loan guarantees, subsidies,
economic insurance
Student loans, farm
subsidies, flood or
deposit insurance,
Suasion Hortatory tools (advising, urging,
Public health and public
attempting to persuade, encouraging safety campaigns
some course of action)
Implementation: the process by which polices
enacted by government are put into effect by
relevant agencies.
The study of implementation: what happens
to a policy after it has been formulated.
Why study implementation?
By learning from implementation problems,
policy makers can learn better ways to design
policies in order to achieve their intended
In the past, policy scientists ignored
implementation because they assumed:
â—¦ Policies were implemented with little or no
â—¦ The bureaucracy was a neutral implementer of
Why were these assumptions wrong?
â—¦ Policies are often ambiguous
â—¦ Bureaucrats have (and exercise) discretion
Assert that policy implementation
is best studied by:
Understanding the goals and
motivations of high-level
initiators of policy
Tracking policy through its
implementation at the lowest
Focusing on “gaps” between the
policy drafters’ goals and the
actual implementation and
outcomes of policy.
Policies contain clearlydefined goals against which
performance can be
What are some critiques of
these assumptions?
Policies contain clearlydefined policy tools for the
accomplishment of goals
The policy is characterized by
the existence of a single
statute or other statement of
There is an “implementation
chain” that starts with a
policy message at the top,
and implementation occurs in
a chain (of actors or events)
Policies are often
intentionally ambiguous
Policy is often a collection of
separate (and sometimes
contradictory) statutes and
policy statements
Policy implementation
occurs through many actors,
sometimes simultaneously
(i.e. it isn’t always a linear
Policy designer have good
knowledge of the capacity
and commitment of the
Capacity: availability of
resources for an agency to
carry out its tasks
(including money, human
resources, legal
authority/autonomy, knowledge
and skills)
Commitment: desire of
implementers to carry out
What are some critiques
of this assumption?
Federal policy makers
may not always know
the capacity of state and
local actors (which is
likely to vary across
Street-level bureaucrats
who do not share the
same goals as policy
makers can use their
discretion to subvert
Assert that policy implementation is best studied
Understanding the goals, motivations, and
capabilities of the lowest-level implementers
Following the policy design upward to the
highest-level initiators of policy (“backwardmapping”)
Indentifying where policy implementation is more
successful and less successful
Goals are ambiguous and
may conflict with other
policy goals, and/or the
norms and motivations of
street-level bureaucrats
Policy can be thought of
as a set of laws, rules,
practices, and norms
Implementation works
through a network of
How are these different from
top-down assumptions?
Clear goals vs. ambiguous goals
One statute vs. groups of laws
A linear “chain” vs. a network of
Top-down focuses on
compliance while bottom-up
focuses on alleviating conflict
through bargaining and
It depends what you are studying.
Top-down may be better when you are studying
a single, dominant program
Bottom-up may be better when there is no single
dominant program or when you are interested in
local elements of implementation
Some scholars suggest both approaches should
be synthesized (i.e. combined with one another).
Alternatives to policies
Realizable policy expectations
Accurate theory of causation
Impact of changing
Relationships among
Political boundaries
Excessive policy demand
Choice of effective policy
The vagaries of
Failure of political institutions

From Ingram and Mann,
Birkland text p. 191
Instrumental policy learning: learning about the
effectiveness of policy tools and interventions
Social policy learning: Learning about the causes of
problems (including focusing on the social constructions
of problems and how this influences policy design)
Political learning: learning about making more
effective political arguments in a policy debate (i.e.
learning to be a more effective policy advocate)
Problems can be
defined and depicted in
many different ways.
Social construction is
the process of defining
problems and of selling
a broad population on a
particular definition.
What counts as a problem?
How are narrative stories
used to explain problems?
How are helplessness and
control understood and
What causal stories exist in
a policy domain?
How are numbers used as
The cultural characterizations or popular images
of persons or groups whose behavior and wellbeing are affected by public policy
Characterizations are normative and evaluative
Social construction in and of itself influences
public officials, shapes the policy agenda, and
shapes policy design (Schneider and Ingram)
Not all target populations are
socially constructed
P n
O g
E e
R a
Beneficial Policy
The Rich
Big unions
Cultural elites
Moral majority
People with HIV/AIDS
Drug addicts
People with HIV/AIDS
P n
O g
Beneficial PolicyEven if causal linkages
to public purposes lack
credibility or are absent
-Benefits noticed by members
but not by the public at large
– Policies that the public
believes inflict burdens but
really have few negative effects
-Complex and vague statutes
E e Symbolic Policies that
R a show concern but allocate
k few real resources. Often
left to lower levels of
government or to the
private (nonprofit) sector
Punishment PolicyBurdens will be higher
than is really needed to
achieve results
Policy teaches target populations lessons
â—¦ the types of groups individuals belong to
â—¦ what they deserve from government
â—¦ what is expected of them
Experience with policy teaches target
populations whether their problems are
legitimate for government attention, what
type of game politics is, and who usually
Types of Target Populations
Contenders Dependents Deviants
Personal Good,
Messages intelligent
problems public
In conflict
with others’
of the private
Your own
Govern- With respect
treat you:
With fear or
With pity
or hate
Impacts on
Types of Target Populations
Advantaged Contenders Dependents
government Supportive
with public
with others
claims on
involving raw and elitist
use of power
One’s own
Open, fair,
Fixed and
abusive of
Impacts on
potential :
(voting, interest
Types of Target Populations
Advantaged Contenders Dependents Deviants
(strikes, riots)
provision of
The list of things being discussed and
sometimes acted upon by an institution, the
media, and the public at large
An agenda may be concrete (a list of bills
before Congress), but also includes beliefs
The existence of a problem
The magnitude of a problem
How a problem should be addressed
Who should address the problem (public, private,
nonprofit )
All possible ideas
that could ever be
Agenda Universe
Any issue, problem, or
idea that could
possibly be considered
by participants in the
policy process
Systemic Agenda
Institutional Agenda
The list
of issues
by a
The agenda
items about
to be acted
upon by a
Agenda Universe
Systemic Agenda
Groups seeking
policy change
want to
advance issues
closer to the
Institutional Agenda
opposing a
change want
to block
issues from
The process by which problems and
alternative solutions gain or lose public or
elite attention
The activities of different actors or groups to
â—¦ 1) bring greater attention to an issue, or
â—¦ 2) prevent an issue from gaining attention
Condition: an
unpleasant situation
about which nothing
can be done
(ex: weather)
Problem: an
undesirable situation
that, according to the
public or interest
groups, can be
alleviated by
government action
And move onto the universal and
systemic agendas
Groups must compete to get their issue on the
agenda because there isn’t capacity to address
all possible alternatives to all possible problems.
Groups must fight to earn a spot in the limited
space on the agenda, or…
Prepare for a time when a crisis will give their
issue a more prominent position on the agenda.
Groups must ensure that
their depiction of a
problem remains in the
forefront of public
The group that
defines the problem
will be the group to
define the solutions
and prevail in policy
Group A may get an
decision on the agenda
that affects Group B,
even if Group B doesn’t
like the decision
Group A prevents Group
B’s issues from getting
on the agenda or
becoming policy, even if
Group B wants these
issues to be raised.
quiescence : noun 1. a state of quiet (but
possibly temporary) inaction; “the volcano
erupted after centuries of dormancy” [syn:
dormancy] 2. quiet and inactive restfulness
Some disadvantaged groups fail to attempt to
exert influence, even if they have a legitimate
political claim
Social relationships and political ideology are
structured over time in such a way that groups
cannot conceive that they can participate in
decisions that affect their life.
Power and Resources
The Scope of Political
â—¦ Biases innate to the
political system allow
some issues to be
raised, while others
are not considered fit
for political
Denying Agenda Access
Expanding the Scope
of Conflict
Disadvantaged groups try
to expand the scope of
conflict to increase what
problems are discussed.
Go Public: Use symbols
and images to increase
media attention and
Appeal to higher-level
decision makers
Controlling the Scope
of Conflict
(Issue Containment)
Keep items low on the
Dominate problem
construction: when a
dominant group uses
agreed-upon symbols to
describe problems,
causation, and solutions,
groups with other
constructions often
cannot access the agenda
The agenda is already full – officials are eager
to be told no action is needed
Time- if you resist moving on an issue, public
attention will often fade
More information about the political system
Use media to focus on negative traits of an
issue or of the proponents of change.
The Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2009
The Implementation of Public Policy:
Still the Missing Link
Robbie Waters Robichau and Laurence E. Lynn Jr.
Although theories of public policy and theories of governance both seek to establish relationships
between policymaking and its consequences, they do not complement each other very well. Public policy
models tend to de-emphasize that which governance theories tend to emphasize: the influence on
government performance of implementation, broadly described as the actions taken by those engaged in
administration (including managers at all levels, those engaged in service delivery, and third-party
agents) after a policy has been lawfully promulgated by elected officials and interpreted by the courts.
A comparison of a recently developed theory of public sector performance with several prominent
theories of policymaking suggests that multilevel governance theories can supply what continues to be
the missing link in public policy theories. At the same time, governance theories might be enriched by
the process modeling of public policy theories.
The increasing use of “governance” as a conceptual frame for research on the
determinants of government performance has produced valuable insights into causal
relationships among public choice processes, public management, service delivery,
and citizen and stakeholder assessments and reactions. Paralleling these efforts,
public …
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