Think Tanks in the United States: Activities, Agendas, and Influence

2 June 2016

Alek Chance has published: Think Tanks in the United States: Activities, Agendas, and Influence. This paper presents an excellent overview of think tanks in the United States including excellent analysis of different business models of some of the most iconic think tanks.

The paper briefly addresses the history of US think tanks (as well as the emergence of the label), their main activities (mainly related to public and private influence),their structures and operations, their role in providing government with ideas and expertise, their role as alternative sources of research (alternative to universities), staffing, funding, and ideological agendas.

The paper includes an interesting discussion about the legal status of think tanks (501(c)3 and 501(c)4 Tax Categories) and future trends.

The paper’s summary reads:

While it might not be widely recognized, think tanks in the United States fill important public roles and exercise significant influence in the policymaking process. They identify issues and recommend policies, provide the government with expertise and personnel, and educate the public. Their success in America is due in part to the particular nature of the US government and American political culture. This report will examine the basic activities of US think tanks with a focus on the connections between these institutions and the American policymaking process. The following discussion will be conducted with an international audience in mind. This means that where think tank activities are directly related to characteristics of American institutions or culture, some effort will be made to offer a brief explanation of these features. As such, this is an examination of American think tanks in particular, and more specifically, those whose primary purpose is to directly and openly attempt to shape public policy in the United States. It is not a comprehensive discussion of global think tanks, or an exhaustive study of all the diverse American institutions that have adopted the label.