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In Fact, Policy Matters

Keeping an Open Mind is Critical for Good Legislation

It’s not all about party affiliation. Really.

(January 29, 2007)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( -- With the control of Congress going from Republicans to Democrats, voters may be concerned that policy decisions are made primarily on ideological grounds rather than on research and sound evidence. Kevin Esterling, an assistant professor of political science at UC Riverside, finds otherwise.

In the second installment of "Policy Matters," a quarterly publication of UC Riverside, Esterling analyzes Congressional decisions about Medicare policy over the past several years. He finds that lawmakers give a significant amount of consideration to policy evidence and expertise during committee deliberations.

"In reality, Congress in its day-to-day practices is interested in information and research and getting policy right,” says Kevin Esterling, "although how much they do so depends on the issue."

When legislators have strong ideological or personal beliefs about what makes for good public policy, they tend not to seek out new information. But when they keep an open mind, they tend to seek out research reports, experts and testimony that helps lead to better results.

Take the example of Medicare policy: “All committee members wish to control the costs of the program, while maintaining access for seniors and quality of care,” Esterling writes. “Such goals can be accomplished by improving the coverage of preventative services, by creating payments systems for providers that reward efficiency in treatment, and by creating pricing systems for inpatient prescription drugs that create competition among drug companies. For these issues, committee members wish to ‘get it right,’ and so care very much about the available policy analysis and recommendations from policy experts,” Esterling wrote.

“Having the ability to identify issues where committee members care about analysis has practical implications for policy analysis, issue advocates, political scientists, and citizens in general,” said Esterling, who is the author of The Political Economy of Expertise: Information and Efficiency in American National Politics (University of Michigan Press, 2004).

“Policy Matters” is part of a larger initiative by UCR on public policy that includes curriculum development, seminar series, and future plans to create a school of public policy. It is available online at

The full report is also mailed to policy makers at the local, state and national levels.

Editors of the quarterly publication are assistant professors Karthick Ramakrishnan and Martin Johnson from UCR’s Department of Political Science, and Mindy Marks, an assistant professor in UCR’s Department of Economics.

An editorial board and an advisory board have been appointed to work with the editors. The advisory board includes faculty and staff from UC Riverside, as well as Mark Baldassare, director of research for the Public Policy Institute of California; Andrés E. Jiménez, director, California Policy Research Center, UC Office of the President; and Mark Pisano, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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