In the United States, a Constitutional form of government mandates a separation of powers between the respective branches of government. Therefore, the methods and avenues of the policymaking process are complex. Because of this unique “separation between its executive and legislative functions” (Schroedel 3) the governmental system in America “lacks a formal hierarchical or organic link between the executive and the legislative branches of government” (Schroedel 3) and this results in two primary progenitors of policymaking.
Policy may be forwarded by the legislative or executive branches. The idea behind the division of policymaking powers to establish “a government composed of functionally separated branches that are required to share legislative responsibilities” (Schroedel 4) with neither of the branches exerting primacy. In addition to the formal branches of government, policymaking is impacted by public activism and public opinion as well as media.
Such influence, often referred to as “agenda setting,” can be a primary motivator in the policymaking chain. Plainly stated, “Agenda-setting is the course by which issues are adopted for Governmental consideration and perhaps remedy” (Nelson 161), so, technically, one of the branches of government, legislative or executive, must at some point be engaged in the policymaking process set forth by public agenda-setting.
A case which illustrates the combination of all aspects of policymaking fro public activism to legislative and executive influence, is the issue of child abuse in America. Rather than having long-standing laws and protections against child abuse, “It was not until the 1950s and 1960s [… ] that the problem again came to the fore” (Nelson 163); a key point being that the bringing of the problem to the forefront of public and governmental awareness lay largely with the media and with popular interest groups and activists.
It was “by examining how child abuse achieved these agendas” that government came to understand “new categorical social service policies” (Nelson 163) and subsequent legislation broadened to include “a more sensitive governmental response to rape, as well as recognition of such “new” problems as spouse abuse, child sexual abuse, child pornography, and abuse of the elderly” (Nelson 163). The conclusion is that public interest and activism, along with the legislative and executive branches of government plays a pivotal role in policymaking in American government.