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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Do Politicians Use Policy to Make Politics? The Case of Public Sector Labor Laws


Schattschneider’s insight that “policies make politics” has played an influential role in the modern study of political institutions and public policy. Yet if policies do indeed make politics, rational politicians clearly have opportunities to use policies to create a future structure of politics more to their own advantage — and this strategic dimension has gone almost entirely unexplored. Do politicians actually use policies to make politics? Under what conditions? In this paper, we develop a theoretical argument about what can be expected from strategic politicians, and we carry out an empirical analysis on a policy development that is particularly instructive: the adoption of public sector collective bargaining laws by the states during the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s — laws that fueled the rise of public sector unions, and “made politics” to the great advantage of Democrats over Republicans.

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