Jan 2017

Ideology, Learning, and Policy Diffusion: Experimental Evidence

Vol. 61 (1), 37 - 49
Daniel M. Butler, Adam Dynes, Boris Shor

We introduce experimental research design to the study of policy diffusion in order to better understand how political ideology affects policymakers’ willingness to learn from one another’s experiences. Our two experiments–embedded in national surveys of U.S. municipal officials–expose local policymakers to vignettes describing the zoning and home foreclosure policies of other cities, offering opportunities to learn more. We find that: (1) policymakers who are ideologically predisposed against the described policy are relatively unwilling to learn from others, but (2) such ideological biases can be overcome with an emphasis on the policy’s success or on its adoption by co-partisans in other communities. We also find a similar partisan-based bias among traditional ideological supporters, who are less willing to learn from those in the opposing party. The experimental approach offered here provides numerous new opportunities for scholars of policy diffusion.