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Policy Preference Formation in Legislative Politics: Structures, Actors, and Focal Points


  • I would like to thank Alberta Sbragia, Mark Hallerberg, Jennifer Victor, B. Guy Peters, Thomas Bräuninger, Lothar Krempel, Steffen Ganghof, Daniel Thomas, Christopher Carman, Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Jason Koepke, German Lodola, Juan Carlos Rodriguez-Raga, as well as three referees and the editors for comments and suggestions. I would also like to thank the European Union Center at the University of Pittsburgh for funding this research.

Nils Ringe is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science, University of Pittsburgh, 4600 Wesley W. Posvar Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15260 (;


This article introduces a model of policy preference formation in legislative politics. Emphasizing a dynamic relationship between structure, agent, and decision-making process, it ties the question of policy choice to the dimensionality of the normative and cognitive political space and the strategic actions of parliamentary agenda setters. The model proposes that structural factors, such as ideology, shape policy preferences to the extent that legislative actors successfully link them to specific policy proposals through the strategic provision of focal points. These ideas or images shift attention toward particular aspects of a legislative proposal, thus shaping the dominant interpretation of its content and consequences. This interpretation affects both individual-level policy preferences and policy outcomes. The propositions of the focal-point model are tested empirically in a detailed examination of European Union legislation on cross-border takeover bids, using both qualitative and quantitative methods.