The effect of interest groups on poliheuristic decision making: the case of the Keystone XL pipeline

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Poliheuristic (PH) decision making theory has been developed to bridge rational choice and cognitive based theories of foreign policy decision making. PH theory asserts that decisions are made in two stages. In the first stage, decision makers act based on simplified decision strategies, or cognitive heuristics which seek to constrain the decision alternatives. In the second stage, the decision maker weighs the alternatives and selects the one which maximizes utility, according to the rational actor framework. Using the case of the Keystone XL pipeline and President Barack Obama’s indecision on it, it is my aim to assess whether PH theory can explain Obama’s postponement of a decision on the pipeline and how interest groups effect decision making in the first stage of PH theory. I conclude that interest groups primarily influence PH decisions by making certain alternatives politically too costly, framing issues in certain ways, and by increasing the salience of an issue to both the public and the decision maker. In addition, I find that PH theory is able to explain Obama’s decision making on the Keystone XL issue.
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