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Cover of "Legislator Use of Communication Technology" featuring Uncle Sam's hand holding a hashtag
December 2018
Rowman and Littlefield

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Legislator Use of Communication Technology

The Critical Frequency Theory of Policy System Stability
Joe West

Political use of communication technology is rapidly changing the nature of politics; one need look no further than United States President Donald Trump’s use of Twitter to realize the impact that communication technology is having on political processes. Communication technology has long been recognized as part of the policy feedback process but until now has received relatively little focus, often relegated to a line or two in a policy process theory system diagram labeled “feedback.” Using data collected from state legislators across all 50 U.S. states, "Legislator Use of Communication Technology: The Critical Frequency Theory of Policy System Stability" takes a fresh look at the role that communication technology plays in the policy process by applying natural science control and electrical engineering concepts such as bandwidth, latency, phase crossover, and positive and negative feedback to develop the critical frequency theory of policy system stability. This theory suggests that every policymaking institution has some critical frequency of communications from the policy environment that, once exceeded, causes the policymaking process to become unstable and speed up. Additionally, interviews with legislators uncover many novel and interesting examples of the use of communication technology in the policy process. For example, legislators note that lobbyists sitting in legislative chambers listening to floor debates are actually texting questions and answers to legislators as they debate; legislators participating in this process are acting as policymaking puppets for the lobbyists sitting in the gallery. This single use of a communication technology has the capability of changing the very nature of what it means to be a legislator.


Joe West is a 2014 graduate of Arizona State University's School of Public Affairs doctoral program and is currently a professor in the University of North Carolina university system. A former electrical engineer with over 30 years of design experience, Dr. West began his second career as a university professor in 2014 after graduating with his doctoral degree from ASU.

Praise for this book

"'Legislator Use of Communication Technology' offers the most complete explanation of a policy feedback loop in public policy literature, thus far. Students and established scholars alike will learn important insights into concepts they have used or seen but perhaps not fully understood, such as negative and positive feedback loops, disturbances, and policy systems theory. The concepts are explained with an engineer’s precision and then applied to a new database on state legislative communications strategies, supplemented with extensive interviews with legislators..."

Dr. Frank Baumgartner, professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill