The polycentricity of climate policy blockage

  • Dana R. FisherEmail author
  • Philip Leifeld


This paper builds on recent research on polycentric governance and the Ecology of Games to understand climate politics in the USA. Complementing previous work from 2005 to 2009, we map out the ideological networks of political actors engaged in the climate policy network using data from the US Congress as an arena of symbolic interaction. Our analysis identifies polycentric sites of ideological congruence and conflict in the discourse network on climate change. Political actors from different levels and including several actor types formed multiple centers that became bipolarized between the 112th and 114th sessions of the US Congress. This process took place in tandem with the increased participation of subnational actors in the polycentric system. By the 114th session of the Congress—during which the 2016 election took place—subnational policy actors, along with a diversity of other actors, contributed to an extremely polarized discussion of one of the central policies in the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan: the Clean Power Plan. This finding is remarkable as the concept of polycentricity tends to be normatively associated with policy innovation, rather than stagnation. Our longitudinal analysis demonstrates, using Discourse Network Analysis, how increased multi-level participation can be associated with policy blockage of progressive climate policies rather than enabling policy innovation.


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.University of Essex, Department of GovernmentColchesterUK

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