Criteria for Selecting Policies

For each survey, we must decide which policy proposals to include and which to exclude. Because there are dozens of proposals put forward by Members of Congress and the Executive Branch within each issue area, we have developed a multi-step criteria to help decide which to include. In order for a policy proposal to be included in one of our surveys, it must meet each of the following four criteria:

  1. It is prominent in the discourse: The proposal has support among many Members in Congress, among the head of a Congressional committee, or has been supported or put forward by the Executive Branch. In the rare occasion that a policy proposal is not prominent in Congress or the Executive Branch, but has been a significant part of the discourse in the news media, we will also consider adding it.
  1. It is consequential: If enacted, the proposal would have substantial effects on the public, or large segments of the public.This criterion excludes proposals such as: creating commissions to study an issue, expanding a grant program by a few million dollars, making minor regulatory changes to a niche industry, or naming a Post Office.
  1. The debate involves competing values: The arguments for and against the policy proposal touch on underlying political values, often regarding the role of the government, that resonate with and are familiar to the public. These debates also tend to involve significant trade-offs and risks, e.g. spending a lot of money on a project but increasing the deficit; giving law enforcement more power to increase security but risking a loss of civil liberties; or regulating an industry but risking a decrease in innovation. This criteria excludes proposals that are overly “wonky”, i.e. minor technical changes to the law or existing government activities.
  1. There is not sufficient public opinion data: The policy proposal has not been extensively surveyed by non-partisan organizations; or those surveys have omitted relevant information about the proposal that could affect public opinion.

While our surveys generally ask about proposed policies, they sometimes ask respondents whether they approve or disapprove of policies that have already passed into law, either recently (e.g. new EPA auto emission standards), or a long time ago (e.g. the US continuing to be part of NATO). If leading political figures are discussing whether such a policy should be abandoned or substantially altered, even if they have not officially put forward legislation or Executive Orders, then it will be considered for inclusion in the survey. This criteria excludes existing policies or laws that are not being debated, or only being debated by small segments of the population (e.g. US membership in the United Nations; the Second Amendment).