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I posted a question about who benefits from the government policy of National Parks in the United States. It was put on hold as off topic, but I want to make sure this area of scope is well defined and discussed. Are questions about the demographics of who benefits from a policy on topic?

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    The question was not about "who benefits", the question was "What percentage of Americans visit a national park in a given year?". Landscape and wildlife conservation efforts benefit far more people than just those who spend time in national parks. – Philipp Aug 26 '16 at 17:05
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    This is the type of questions that look like on/offtopic due to wording and formulation. At the very minimum, I would prefer waiting for some answers/comments from other users who may be familiar with the subject, or ask the OP to adjust the wording. And, most certainly, avoid closing it single-handedly. – bytebuster for Long Usernames Aug 27 '16 at 8:26
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    Visiting a park is not the only way we benefit from their existence. I love seeing pictures from the parks even if I have not had the opportunity to visit. And just because I have not visited in given year does not mean I will not visit one or more in my lifetime. The question is not about the benefits of the policy but a specific statistic that is merely tangential to politics. – SoylentGray Aug 27 '16 at 11:35
  • @Chad I definitely agree that park visitors are not the only beneficiaries of national parks. It's just one statistic that helps us understand who benefits, but it's important to have that statistic. Social Security doesn't just benefit retired people, it also benefits the families and loved ones who would have to support their elderly relatives if the program didn't exist. That doesn't mean having statistics about who receives social security checks is irrelevant or somehow not about who benefits from social security. – lazarusL Aug 27 '16 at 12:46
  • @lazarusL - Its not irrelevant its just off topic. – SoylentGray Aug 29 '16 at 13:52
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    Questions like "who benefit from a policy" are clearly on-topic to me. But that isn't your question at all. Who benefits from a national park organisation? Pretty much the whole world, preservation of bio-diversity, nature helping regulating global warming, C02->O2, scientific investigation, etc. Your question is about statistics of Americans who visited the NP. This is reducing the scope to something that is only a minor component of the benefits of the policy. Your question might be On-topic, but this discussion isn't about it. – clem steredenn Sep 7 '16 at 5:50
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Yes, questions about the demographics of who benefits from a policy are on topic. Questions are on topic for this site if they deal with "governments, policies, and political processes." A key part of understanding the impact of policies is understanding who benefits from them. Questions about demographics are on topic if they directly relate to a government policy.

In a democratic country, questions about the beneficiaries of policies are especially on topic, because those beneficiaries go on to vote for lawmakers. Understanding who specific policies benefit is vital to understanding the dynamics of those countries elections and how democratic forces influence lawmakers. Elections and how lawmakers pass laws are key political processes that this site helps users understand better.

Does allowing these questions open a rabbit hole of unrelated questions? I don't think so. For a question to be on topic, it must tie back to a government program or policy. "How many Americans work in factories that make auto parts?" is off topic. "How many Americans work in parts of the manufacturing sector that would be exposed to foreign competition by the Trans Pacific Partnership?" is somewhat broad, but it's a vital question for understanding the constituencies pressuring lawmakers writing the trade deal and the positions of candidates on the trade deal and thus should be on topic.

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National parks are a function of the government, and I would consider questions about them and their implications to be on topic.

Keeping that in mind, your specific question might be too broad/opinion-based.

When I imagine a potential answer to that question, I imagine different metrics for "benefit", different kinds of benefits such as educational, environmental, economic, etc, and very complex ways in which a park may or may not benefit someone.

I feel as though if someone would attempt to answer that, they would need to make some assumptions about what counts as benefits, assumptions about opportunity cost, and they would need to speculate and guess.

When a question requires too much speculation and guessing to answer, I usually consider it to be opinion-based.

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No, such questions are not on-topic.

Just because the answer to a question might be relevant for political decision making does not mean it is a question about politics. If we would allow such questions, then pretty much every aspect of life would be on-topic here because every aspect of life can be a topic of government regulation.

The litmus test if a question is on-topic here or not is "would a political scientist have a better answer to this question than an expert of a different specialization?". Visitor numbers of national parks are not within the area of expertise of a political scientist, so questions about that do not belong here.

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    Exactly. Beside visiting a park is not the only way we benefit from their existence. I love seeing pictures from the parks even if I have not had the opportunity to visit. And just because I have not visited in given year does not mean I will not visit one or more in my lifetime. The question is not about the benefits of the policy but a specific statistic that is merely tangential to politics. – SoylentGray Aug 27 '16 at 11:35
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    "would a political scientist have a better answer to this question than an expert of a different specialization?" - I think I like that limit in concept, but have we ever actually used it as a policy before? – user4012 Aug 29 '16 at 13:43

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