Historical Analogies and the Cognitive Dimension of Domestic Policymaking

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Abstract

Established models of the domestic policymaking process accord some role to the individual decision-maker, but they usually fail to show how policy decisions are ultimately influenced by the character of the information available to the policymakers concerned. Drawing on one prominent model of decision-making developed by analysts of foreign policy—the analogical reasoning approach—this article proposes that individual-level approaches are most useful in domestic policy analysis where decision-makers must confront a discrete policy “episode” in which perceived levels of cognitive uncertainty and ambiguity are high. An analysis of decision-making by political leaders during the 1967 Detroit riots reveals that these leaders made widespread use of historical analogies at various stages of the policymaking process. Policymakers can probably be expected to rely on analogizing under circumstances and contexts that make cognitive demands similar to those observed in the Detroit case.

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