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Most of the questions asked so far are about the political process ("What criteria does a US Presidential candidate need to meet in order to appear on the ballot?"). Some ask about the details of policies ( How does the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) differ from Massachusetts health care reform (Romneycare)? ) or the history and causes of policies ( What are the key factors for the rise of nationalism in Europe? ). I consider these questions to be definitely on topic.

What is more complex is asking about the effects of policies ( Does the Corporate tax rate negatively affect the economy? )

  1. If Economics StackExchange hadn't shut down, then it'd probably be better to ask it there
  2. The questions about the effects of policies are ones most likely to be contentious. Enforcing neutrality might be able to keep things under control, but could also result in accusations of censorship
  3. Handling policy questions would greatly increase our audience. If we were able to handle these well, then this site would be extremely valuable.
  4. In the site definition, the questions that were most upvoted were about the political process, not policy implications
  5. If we allow these questions, we dramatically increase the sites scope ("What are the environmental effects of allowing fracking?", "Does standardised testing improve education?", "Do patents interfere with innovation in the software industry?"). This works on Skeptics StackExchange, but they are the only StackExchange like it so far
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I think these can be permitted to the extent that pure speculation doesn't become the only basis of answers the question can receive. At that point we're holding hypothetical discussions, not answering questions.

What we can't do is entertain questions about sensitive issues wrapped in the context of politics. A question about the effects of fracking is not a political question, it's an environmental question. Similarly, you can't ask about boat maintenance in the context of being a programmer on Stack Overflow.

If someone is questioning the position of a political candidate when it comes to a certain issue, Skeptics may be the best place to ask. A question about bad science that a political candidate is pushing isn't mainly about politics, it's about bad science, unless that bad science is political science.

I think we should limit our scope to questions where the history, studies or established knowledge of politics can be the foundation for answers that a question could receive.

The potential effects of policies can and (I believe) broadly do fall into this category, provided that they are asked in a neutral way. Context, of course, is king when it comes to determining the topic and objectiveness of individual questions for now.

  • What is your opinion is this question: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/57/…? – Casebash Dec 5 '12 at 8:02
  • @Casebash As asked, that's on the line, but more on the non-constructive side. Someone who has been researching the topic could narrow it down in an answer, citing a specific organization, tax(es) and showing the result. But, it's the question's job to set such constraints - it's a bit too open ended as is. It should be edited, or closed until the OP is able to narrow it down. – Tim Post Dec 5 '12 at 8:07
  • I'm not so much interesting about the questions constructiveness, but your opinion on whether it is off-topic in the same way as the fracking question is? I suppose politics courses may cover economics, while they are unlikely to cover fracking - that could be a valid reason for making a distinction between economics and other fields – Casebash Dec 5 '12 at 8:10
  • @Casebash Sorry, I got a little ahead of myself. The question could speak to policy, which is tightly coupled to economics across the board. I don't think we can separate the two. Once he edits the question I think it would be a better example for discussion. A purely economic related question, like .. 'will Social Security go bankrupt?' would be out. 'Would the proposed policy #153 cause Social Security to go bankrupt?' might be on topic. I think context is king when deciding on this type of question. – Tim Post Dec 5 '12 at 8:20
  • Ok, so you think that questions like "How much would policy X reduce emissions by?" or "How much immigration would occur if we adopted an open border?" or "What would be the economic impact of banning fracking?" would be on topic? – Casebash Dec 5 '12 at 8:46
  • @Casebash That's kind of my point, I can't say yes or no by the title, at least not at this point. It would depend entirely on the meat of the question. However, I'm leaning to 'no' on the fracking one, as I can't piece together a hypothetical question along those lines that would fit. The immigration one? Depends on the meat of the bill that would make that change. That's why I'm saying .. context is king at this point. – Tim Post Dec 5 '12 at 9:08
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In the definition phase, I put forward a definition of politics that I think would give this site coherence:

Politics is the end result of conflicting egos working themselves out over matters of policy.

Using this definition would allow the following to be on-topic:

Matters of policy:

As any policy wonk will tell you, the details of any piece of legislation matter. They may not be political science, but they matter. Discussing the merits of, for example, whether employer-based or single-payer systems has real impact on legislation, lives, and debates. While this site won't be looking for the debate, I would assume that posts asking for the merits and demerits of policy approaches would be on-topic. Here, multiple, competing answers (such as on Christianity.SE) will tend to reward substantive rather than polemic answers. This is not to say there will be no polemics - but with only a modicum of moderation, the truly insightful posts will tend to rise to the top.

Working themselves out:

The rules of political science are important. How are votes counted? Can rank order preferences be taken into account? What institutional prerogatives touch this issue? Are there historical precedents for this? All of these questions are fully on topic, because the process is often as important as the result.

Conflicting egos:

Personalities matter, but for purposes of this site, I suspect will become less interesting over time than process and policy. Factually discussing the relevant personalities is tricky, but a solid neutral point of view will keep things factual and constructive. (e.g., "President X is jerk" helps no one, but "President X is not well regarded by the community of Y, and will thus hamper Policy Z's chance of passage" is exactly the kind of analysis that political junkies love to make and read.)

I would argue that policy should be on topic, because they basically are the cards that characters play when "politics" is done. Policy implications are often the arguments used by partisans to defend or promote a thing. While we should eschew partisanship, details and reasonable implications should be fully on topic, as they are an examination of the policy itself.

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