The local roots of federal policy change: Transportation in the 1990s

Paul G. Lewis, Eric McGhee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Although allegedly "all politics is local," studies of policy changes in the United States tend to emphasize national political cleavages, national issue-attention cycles, and inside-the-Beltway approaches to issue networks. We argue that more accurate and complete explanations of national policy changes require a broader consideration of problem definition and issue framing at the local level, as well as intergovernmental political pressures. Using hearing testimony, media coverage, and other data, we test this proposition by examining alterations to U.S. transportation policy in the 1990s. The reauthorizatlons of the federal transportation law in 1991 and 1998, which shifted considerable discretion away from states and toward previously weak metropolitan planning organizations, are typically viewed as major victories for mass transit and environmentalists. Our analysis suggests that a conventional explanation focusing on national factors like public opinion, interest group involvement, and Congressional membership provides less leverage in accounting for these substantive and procedural policy shifts than an explanation centered on local and intergovernmental factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)204-229
Number of pages26
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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