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date: 03 March 2021

The Poliheuristic Theory of Political Decision-Makinglocked

  • Alex Mintz, Alex MintzLauder School of Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy, Institute for Policy and Strategy, IDC Herzliya
  • Steven B. ReddSteven B. ReddDepartment of Political Science, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
  •  and Eldad Tal-ShirEldad Tal-ShirLauder School of Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy, Institute for Policy and Strategy, IDC Herzliya


Poliheuristic theory focuses on the why and how of decision-making. The primary argument is that decision-makers are sensitive to both cognitive and environmental constraints and are particularly likely to focus on the political consequences of their decisions. Decision-makers use a two-stage process en route to choice, wherein heuristic shortcuts are implemented in the first stage in an effort to reduce complexity and in the second stage a maximizing strategy on the remaining alternatives in the choice set. The theory focuses on five main information-processing characteristics: order-sensitive, nonholistic, and dimension-based searching and noncompensatory and satisficing decision rules. The theory has been tested using numerous case studies and statistical and experimental analyses. These studies have provided strong empirical support for this theory.

In 2013, the United States decided not to attack Syria, despite domestic and international pressure to do so. This case shows the importance of political constraints on President Obama’s calculus of decision, leading to the adoption of the chemical disarmament of Syria.

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