Artists of the Possible

My next book, Artists of the Possible: Governing Networks and American Policy Change Since 1945 is now shipping on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, including Kindle. The book can also be ordered directly from Oxford University Press. The book is part of the Studies in Postwar American Political Development series. More information on the Policymaking History Project and relevant data and articles are available here

"This book is a significant contribution to policy studies. It is rooted in vast, meticulous research, and its ‘governing networks’ motif works out nicely. It throws an original light on the American policy explosion of the 1960s and 1970s."

David R. Mayhew, Sterling Professor of Political Science, Yale University

"Why does government do what it does? If Matt Grossmann is right, voters, elections, polls, and the media matter less than you think, and elite networks matter more. This data-driven book maps—quite literally—the internal dynamics that govern the networks that govern the rest of us. Its arguments will intrigue and often provoke conservatives and liberals alike."

Jonathan Rauch, Contributing Editor, National Journal and the Atlantic

"Artists of the Possible is certain to attract scholarly attention, spark debate, and spur new theorizing and research on American policymaking. Grossmann builds a new data set from hundreds of policy histories to challenge major approaches to understanding policy change and to formulate an alternative argument, one that raises fascinating and troubling questions about democratic government."

Thomas Mann, co-author of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks

Do policymakers heed the voices of the American public or only the lobbyists in Washington? Why do they take action on health reform, but not gun control? Why does policymaking usually move slowly, and sometimes not at all? Artists of the Possible takes on these questions, analyzing sixty years of domestic policy history to provide a new understanding of what drives policymaking in all three branches of government. The results are surprising: public policy does not address the public’s largest concerns. The amount of policy—and its liberal or conservative direction—emerges instead from coalition building and compromises among political elites. Elections, public opinion, and media coverage have little impact, no matter the issue area. Even changes in Washington’s partisan balance and ideological divides fail to reliably produce shifts in policy direction. This data-rich, exhaustively researched work overturns our most basic assumptions about how policy is made, challenging the notion that our government is of, by, and for the people.

  • Summarizes the findings from 268 books and reports on American policy history, and broadly covers American domestic policy history since 1945, including 14 different major issue areas-nearly everything that has been a topic of national concern over 60 years
  • Challenges the most common and basic theories of politics
  • Integrates theories from popular political history and presidential biographies, studies of policymaking surrounding particular issue areas, and traditional political science research

Table of Contents:


Chapter 1: The Insularity of American Policymaking

Chapter 2: Aggregating Policy History

Chapter 3: Does the Issue Agenda Matter?

Chapter 4: The Long Great Society

Chapter 5: Issue Politics and the Policy Process

Chapter 6: Explaining Policy Change