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Strategic State Capacity: How States Counter Opposition to Climate Policy

August 2, 2021

How can the state overcome organized opposition to climate policy from interest groups? CSSN Scholar Jonas Meckling examines the question in this new peer-reviewed research article.


When can states implement policies against the opposition from powerful interest groups? Research on state capacity has examined bureaucratic sources of capacity, leaving unexplained why countries with similar levels of bureaucratic capacity vary in goal attainment. We introduce the notion of strategic state capacity to explain this puzzle. It refers to the ability of the state to mobilize or demobilize interest groups in pursuit of policy goals. We identify four general types of strategies states use to counter opposition: recruiting allies, aligning interests, limiting access, and quieting interests. We examine these in cases on climate and clean energy policymaking in California, France, Germany, and the United States. Climate politics is an increasingly important field of distributive politics with powerful opposition from interest groups. The concept of strategic state capacity complements bureaucratic notions of capacity to show how the state actively organizes its relations with interest groups to advance policy goals.

Image Credit: Matthew Field, Wikimedia