Christopher Witko, Jana Morgan, Nathan Kelly, and Peter Enns Receive the 2022 Gladys M. Kammerer Award

The Gladys M. Kammerer Award is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor the best book published during the previous calendar year in the field of U.S. national policy.  This year’s award goes to, Hijacking the Agenda: Economic Power and Political Influence, written by Christopher Witko, Jana Morgan, Nathan Kelly and Peter K. Enns. The citation can be found below.

Christopher Witko, co-author of Hijacking the Agenda: Economic Power and Political Influence, is a professor of public policy and political science at the Pennsylvania State University. His research focuses on how actors like interest groups, political parties and the mass public shape policy and how policies both shape and respond to economic changes, like growing inequality, financialization and automation. Witko has been part of research teams funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and the Norwegian Research Council and has taught in Spain and Korea.

 

 

Jana Morgan, c0-author of Hijacking the Agenda: Economic Power and Political Influence, is professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.  She is the author of Bankrupt Representation and Party System Collapse (2011), which received the Van Cott Best Book Award from the Latin American Studies Association. She is Associate Editor for Politics and International Relations at Latin American Research Review.  

Nathan Kelly, c0-author of Hijacking the Agenda: Economic Power and Political Influence, is Professor of Political Science at the University of Tennessee.  His research addresses questions related to the politics of social, economic, and political inequality in the United States and the Western Hemisphere.  In addition to Hijacking the Agenda, he is the author of The Politics of Income Inequality in the United States and America’s Inequality Trap.  He is a past recipient of the Carnegie Corporation Fellowship and has been a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation.

 

Peter K. Enns, co-author of Hijacking the Agenda: Economic Power and Political Influence, is a Professor of Government and Professor of Public Policy at Cornell University and Robert S. Harrison Director of the Cornell Center for Social Sciences.  He is also Co-founder and Chief Data Scientist at Verasight.

Citation from the Award Committee: 

In Hijacking the Agenda: Economic Power and Political Influence, authors Christopher Witko, Jana Morgan, Nathan J. Kelly, and Peter K. Enns reorient our conception and measurement of the policy agenda and expand our theoretical understanding of who influences it.  Building on the assumption that issue attention precipitates policy action — although it clearly does not guarantee action — the authors examine all the nearly half billion words spoken on the floors of the houses of Congress from 1995 to 2016 to develop a systematic measure of economic issue attention.  The measure not only provides an understanding of which economic issues are prioritized but gives us an unprecedented view of who shapes the agenda and why.  The authors demonstrate convincingly that members of Congress give more attention to economic issues prioritized by wealthy interests, compared to those prioritized by lower- and middle-class interests, and that greater attention in the form of speeches made on the floor of Congress results in more action on those issues.

Witko et al. provide three case studies (of financial deregulation, partial financial re-regulation, and the minimum wage) to demonstrate how the dynamic relationship between structural and kinetic power determines whose interests are likely to prevail in Congress.  When those with greater structural power throw their kinetic resources behind an economic agenda, such as efforts made by the wealthy interests connected to the financial sector to use their resources to push for financial deregulation in the 1990s, their agenda is likely to be achieved in Congress.  However, the 2007 financial crisis temporarily undermined the structural power of those wealthy interests, providing an opportunity for lower- and middle-class interests to push for modest reforms intended to improve regulation of the finance industry.  With respect to minimum wage policy, intended to benefit those with less structural power generally, Witko et al. demonstrate that wealthier interests were able to use their asymmetrical advantage in structural and kinetic power to keep an increase in the minimum wage off the legislative agenda, at times by directing resources to members of Congress likely to support an increase in the minimum wage.

Hijacking the Agenda is an important, if sobering, account of how issues arise on the U.S. national policy agenda. Witko and colleagues remind us that “the ability to control which issues get onto the agenda and which remain off the agenda is an important aspect of wielding political power.”  With less structural power, middle- and lower-class interests must mobilize their kinetic resources through activities like campaign donations and member mobilization in the hopes of making even modest reforms before the traditionally more powerful interests regain their full structural advantage and the window for putting reform on the legislative agenda once again closes.

APSA thanks the committee members for their service: Brad T. Gomez (chair) of Florida State University, Dr. Lisa M. Holmes of the University of Vermont, and Dr. Erin E. O’Brien of the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

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