Ursula Hackett, Ph.D.


Royal Holloway, University of London

Address: Royal Holloway, University of London

City: Egham, England - TW20 0EX

Country: United Kingdom

About Me:

I am a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London, a post I hold in conjunction with a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (2016-19). My research focuses on American Political Development (APD), public policy, federalism, education, and religion and politics. In September 2016 I launched a new course in APD at Royal Holloway. My research monograph America's Voucher Politics will be published by Cambridge University Press.

Research Interests

Public Policy

State and Local Politics

Religion & Politics

Race, Ethnicity and Politics

Public Administration

Education Policy

American Political Development

Law And Politics

Political Representation

Countries of Interest

United States

My Research:

America's Voucher Politics: How Elites Learned to Hide the State
Forthcoming with Cambridge University Press

The use of private organizations and the tax system to implement government policy weakens the link between the state and the institutions it funds. Vouchers, for example, grant public funds to individuals to spend in private markets on services that would otherwise be provided by the government direct. As I explain in America’s Voucher Politics: How Elites Learned to Hide the State, the resulting hidden state is expensive, expansive and regressive.  It has developed, I argue, because such hidden mechanisms are effective ways to airbrush the link between state and policy outputs and to limit judicial challenges by rival interests. These rival interests arise from deep-rooted religious, racial, and civic controversies in politics, which I term America’s foundational identity struggles.

This book coins the phrase attenuated governance to describe the indirect governance arrangement through which local, state and federal government distances itself from certain policy outputs. Attenuation can be accomplished rhetorically (by de-emphasizing the role of the state in the provision of a benefit) or in policy design (by using tax expenditure funding streams or third-party policy delivery to intervene between government and policy beneficiaries). Drawing upon my original research into vouchers, I argue that doubling up two forms of attenuated governance, employing attenuated design and attenuating rhetoric concurrently, thwarts legal and political opposition to enable policy enactment and endurance.

I have constructed an original historical dataset of voucher programs and their legal and political defense (1953-2018), and analyze it using statistical analysis, survey experiments, archival sources, and 101 elite interviews. In their own words, policymakers, advocates, lobbyists and bureaucrats explain how particular policy designs and communications strategies help programs pass, survive and grow, avoiding legal entanglements and opposition mobilization. The success of voucher policies can be explained in terms of policymaker learning and their strategic response to potential barriers to policy enactment. By distancing the government from politically contentious goals, elites use vouchers to follow policy avenues that would otherwise be politically and legally perilous because they entangle the state with hot-button culture war conflict.