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Theories of Political Decision-Making: 

Theories of Political Decision-Making 1. SEU or rational choice model (based on how people SHOULD behave if rational) 2. Behavioral or descriptive model (based on research how people in SMALL GROUPS ACTUALLY make decisions 3. Role other variables BUREAUCRATIC POLITICS

(Subjective) Expected Utility Theory (SEU): 

(Subjective) Expected Utility Theory (SEU) Normative theory of decision making “how people SHOULD make decisions under uncertainty

AND implicit model of how people make decisions (for many) : 

AND implicit model of how people make decisions (for many) Example: Will North Korea use nukes if system is collapsing??? Motivational analysis….infer what will Kim Il Sung do? What are his options? Preferences How does he calculate risks/success (P of success each outcome) How will he “maximize” North Korea’s national interests????

Rational choice -motivational analysis….: 

Rational choice -motivational analysis…. What is Kim Il Sung likely to do if country collapsing? “what if” or plausibility motivational analysis based on information perceived to be relevant, prior beliefs & values BUT “rationality” culture-bound concept

SEU or Rational choice model: 

SEU or Rational choice model Assumptions: 1) People know & can rank order preferences (logical order a<b<c) 2)Estimate P of success (based on all relevant available information (use P theory) 3) “Maximize” pick most preferred option with high P of success

Behavioral decision-making model: 

Behavioral decision-making model People satisfice (don’t usually try to maximize)

Key concepts (research how people ACTUALLY - decisions : 

Key concepts (research how people ACTUALLY - decisions Use “status quo” as anchor Find “good enough” solution (change) Preferences & risk calculus vary (framing)

Research - how people ACTUALLY make decisions: 

Research - how people ACTUALLY make decisions Don’t use probability theory -weights not frequencies of occurrence; - avoid “Regrets” - focus on ONE aspect of problem I.e., “don’t lose war before next elections” Use intuitive heuristics & prior beliefs

Research - how people ACTUALLY make decisions: 

Research - how people ACTUALLY make decisions Use intuitive HEURISTICS (& prior beliefs)………> lots of cognitive BIASES -attribution bias (motivational analysis) -retrospective bias…..>don’t learn from experience

Research - how people ACTUALLY make decisions: 

Research - how people ACTUALLY make decisions PROCESS only LIMITED AMOUNTS of INFORMATION (often inconsistently) Simplify PROBLEM (BINARY CHOICE) COGNITIVE CONCEIT……>result “think we make better (more rational) decisions than we do

Implications (Scary)???: 

Implications (Scary)??? If NOT “rational choosers” who maximize Can’t predict in advance what other will do Can’t assume we’ve chosen “the best” solution Can’t ignore fact intuitive decision making often leads to biases and errors


BUT There are patterns in way people make decisions UNDER UNCERTAINTY …….>if limited information processor easier to design DECISION AIDS

Political problems = “ill-structured problems”: 

Political problems = “ill-structured problems” No Simple choice Not single person Small Group STEPS 1 develop “shared problem representation” 2 discuss-reach consensus 3 Development problem solution (key reference point STATUS QUO - “make a minor adjustment “

Develop a “shared problem representation” (immediate problem at hand: 

Develop a “shared problem representation” (immediate problem at hand Define Problem . . Discuss (what are we doing now?) . . “shared solution” CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS “Must get the missiles out before next election” . . blockade; use force if necessary

Descriptive research on Group Judgments &Decisions: 

Descriptive research on Group Judgments &Decisions Do groups operate with same heuristics and biases as individuals? (Plous Ch 18)

How Groups are similar to Individuals: 

How Groups are similar to Individuals Individual and Group Attribution Error (ignore external determinants of behavior) Self-serving & Group-serving biases (team wins>good players, team losses???) “Outgroup homogeneity bias” (perceptions of own group as highly varied; others “all the same”)


GROUPS may “amplify” biases resulting from using heuristics

Implications for politics???? (groups amplify pre-existing tendencies): 

Implications for politics???? (groups amplify pre-existing tendencies) Perpetuate STEROTYPES Individuals & Groups “Americans” “Serbs” vs. Albanians “hawks & doves”


GROUP POLARIZATION “tendency for group discussion to amplify the inclinations of group members” “RISKY SHIFT” (Stoner, 1961)

Impact of Group on problem solving?: 

Impact of Group on problem solving? Usually IMPROVES problem-solving ESPECIALLY if: OPEN discussion encouraged I.e., -dissenting viewpoints are heard -minorities have a say

How good are Group Problem solving abilities: 

How good are Group Problem solving abilities Construct shared PROBLEM REPRESENTATION BASED on WHOSE Knowledge?

GROUPS tend to be more ACCURATE: 

GROUPS tend to be more ACCURATE UNDER CERTAIN CONDITIONS: -Nature and difficulty of the task -Competence of group members, how group members interact, etc BETTER for Quantitative judgements; average individual performance (not = best individual performance)

Research on creativity: 

Research on creativity Brainstorming more effective when ideas generated independently & combined rather than in group ….>independent work then SHARE ideas

Groupthink : 

Groupthink “a general pattern of concurrence seeking in a highly cohesive group who seek to maintain group solidarity at all costs”


SYMPTOMS of GROUPTHINK ILLUSION of INVULNERABILITY excessive RISKS taking (nothing can stop us) STEREOTYPED views of ENEMY (we “good guys”; they’re “weak” “bad”

Why so many miscalculations?: 

Why so many miscalculations? limited information processing capabilities Situational factors (crisis) Group Dynamics Organization Constraints (Bureaucratic Politics


ANTECEDENT CONDITIONS HIGH degree of group COHESIVENESS INSULATION of group Lack tradition impartial LEADERSHIP Lack NORMS critical appraisal of situation; alternatives


ILLUSION of UNANIMITY ASSUMED CONSENSUS silence = consent Uniformity Pressures Closed-mindedness Collective rationalizations No one speaks out

Self-Appointed MINDGUARDS: 

Self-Appointed MINDGUARDS Ensure no counter arguments raised social pressures against DEVIANT views Keep DEVIANTS quiet or away


SUAVE or FORCEFUL LEADERSHIP Encourages DOCILITY among ADVISERS No DEVIANT views expressed FEAR loosing ACCESS (value extension)


SELF-CENSORSHIP Suppression of personal doubts …….> Ignore group consequences of actions Unquestioned belief in group’s morality


NORMS: I.e.. Don’t ANTAGONIZE VALUED (New) MEMBERS “don’t attack CIA plan” importance of “AFFECT” group cohesiveness

Consequences of Groupthink: 

Consequences of Groupthink Incomplete survey of alternatives (2) “ objectives Failure to examine RISKS or COSTS of PREFERRED outcome Failure reappraise other alternative Poor information search (ignore experts) Selective biases in processing information Little or no time discussing implementation , “why if”, contingency plans

High Quality Political Decisions: 

High Quality Political Decisions How can such intelligent people make such BAD decisions? What are political decisions so difficult?

Other Factors influencing decision-making process: 

Other Factors influencing decision-making process Decision-making the Quintessential Political Act

Complex problem solving (ill-structured problems): 

Complex problem solving (ill-structured problems) LOTS of UNCERTAINTY --Outcome unknown --Information incomplete & conflicting

Why political decisions are so difficult: 

Why political decisions are so difficult Multiple and competing values Complexity Value Extension Should US maintain troops in Balkans? Send troops to Sierra Leone? Help police?

SMALL GROUP is political decision unit: 

SMALL GROUP is political decision unit Small group interaction Distribution of roles, personal relationships, expertise Type of Group “new” (crisis) or working group Physical factors group size seating arrangements

Other factors: 

Other factors Cognitive limitations memory cognitive complexity Political Power dispersed Across individuals & organizations Role Organizational rules,norms,constrains


BUREAUCRATIC POLITICS Institutional rules Civilian control of military Norms “national interest = agency interest” “where you stand on an issue depends upon where you sit” Constraints $$$$

Importance of bureaucratic politics depends:: 

Importance of bureaucratic politics depends: Who are key actors (how diffuse is responsibility) What are key issues (framing is a political exercise) Each agency: SOP institutional culture(oral ) interpersonal relationships -heads & key managers

How individuals & bureaucratic actors resolve value conflicts?: 

How individuals & bureaucratic actors resolve value conflicts? Compromise (inter-agency “pulling & hauling”) Accept Deny Misinterpret information, decision

Other important factors: 

Other important factors MICRO Individual variables (personality,cognition) Role formal,informal (Advisory system) MACRO “Information” Bureaucratic politics Domestic Political, Economic, Social factors International factors Remembered History

Decision Fiascoes: Bay of Pigs: 

Decision Fiascoes: Bay of Pigs Background: JFK 2 days after elected approved CIA plan to provide COVERT US military aid to Cuban exiles to OVERTHROW CASTRO

6 MISCALCULATIONS (false assumptions): 

6 MISCALCULATIONS (false assumptions) People would believe CIA cover story” “Cuban Air Force is ineffective;can be knocked out before attack” “Castro’s army so weak Exile brigade can establish well-protected beachhead” “High morale of 1400 Cubans; don’t need support US troops” “Invasion with spark popular uprising” “If fails can retreat to Escombray Mountains and join guerrillas”

Why did Kennedy & ADVISERS make such faulty assumptions?: 

Why did Kennedy & ADVISERS make such faulty assumptions? POLITICAL calculations (Cold War) ADMINISTRATION captive bureaucracy need for secrecy threats personal reputation & status faulty dm“groupthink”

Decision to escalate Korean War: 

Decision to escalate Korean War “Truman’s Bay of Pigs” Background: Authorized Gen MacArthur to cross 38th parallel to occupy North Korea June 1950 North Korea invades Oct US “uniting for peace” UN resolution Nov China enters war in mass “longest retreat in US history”

Major miscalculations: 

Major miscalculations Ignored risks Shared sense invulnerability Mindguards excluded experts (Acheson-Kennan) Selective self perception Deflected anger from group (Press)


Pearl Harbor 1941- “INTERLOCKING GROUP THINK “It can’t happen here” “Japs won’t take risk” “Fleet in harbor IS a deterrent” “Let GEORGE do it (Army) “Noisy warning” Wishful thinking and SOPs

Johnson’s decisionmaking 1964-67 Case of Groupthink?: 

Johnson’s decisionmaking 1964-67 Case of Groupthink? Reject’s Ellsberg’s “quagmire myth” (methaheuristic-DON’T LOSE WAR BEFORE NEXT ELECTION) vs “slow motion Bay of Pigs”

HIGH QUALITY DM: Cuban Missile Crisis Why?: 

HIGH QUALITY DM: Cuban Missile Crisis Why? Canvassed lots alternatives Analyzed objectives,value implications,costs cont. search information, expert advise attention to details implementation LEARNED from Bay of Pigs Everyone encouraged to play DEVIL ADVOCATES LEADER absent 2 subgroups Bob Kennedy intellectural “mindguard”

Marshall Plan - High Quality Decisonmaking 2 weeks: 

Marshall Plan - High Quality Decisonmaking 2 weeks 6 independent groups assumed Europeans must play central role assumed Germany key;offered to all highly emotional (Kennan wept) new members for advise (Harriman)

Who sucumbs to GROUPTHINK?: 

Who sucumbs to GROUPTHINK? What can be done???? Use decision aids ALGORITHMS (picking a college) Use computer aids - develop problem problem solving heuristics, choice

Unanswered questions/criticisms: 

Unanswered questions/criticisms How widespread is groupthink? Janis’ methodology convenience sample s incomplete data-CMC new research -problem framing-solution ALL how to judge process-oucome

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