2012 Gladys M. Kammerer Award

The Gladys M. Kammerer Award is given for the best book published in the U.S. during the previous calendar year in the field of U.S. national policy.

Award Committee: Sunshine Hillygus, Duke University; Thad Kousser, University of California, San Diego; and Reuel R. Rogers, Northwestern University

Recipient: Sean Ehrlich, Florida State University

Book: Access Points: An Institutional Theory of Policy Bias and Complexity (Oxford University Press)

Citation: Access Points: An Institutional Theory of Policy Bias and Complexity is driven by a theoretical insight that rings clear as a bell: Lobbyists become more active and influential, making policy more complex and often biased, when the structure of government opens up more points of access.  Sean D. Ehrlich’s important new book lays out this original idea in plain language, backed by formal reasoning.  He argues that one key feature of governing institutions – the number of relevant and independent policymakers who are susceptible to special interest influence – shapes many aspects of both lobbyist behavior and the content of policies.

Ehrlich then demonstrates the explanatory power of this idea through an impressive series of empirical tests that reach across political systems as well as policy spheres.  Access point theory helps us understand why US tariff rates shifted over time as the Reciprocal Trade Agreement Act of 1934 delegated decisionmaking power to the executive branch, and why America’s many access points generally empower interest groups and bias policy.  This contribution to the study of American national policy is significantly buttressed, though, with cross-national investigations showing that institutional design predicts policy outcomes in trade, the environment, banking, and tax codes across the globe.

Ehrlich guides readers through this wide range of sophisticated tests in well-crafted prose, and concludes by deftly showing how his theory interacts with yet adds to veto player and selectorate theories.   With a parsimonious idea that has broad explanatory power, Access Points is poised to contribute the American politics, comparative institutions, and policymaking literatures.     


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