Class Year


Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Spring 2020

Department 1

Public Policy


The punctuated equilibrium theory on public policy formulation is a useful tool in understanding the ways in which public institutions craft policy. The theory, developed by Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones in 1995, states policy changes inherently occur gradually. Factors including the polarization of political ideologies and cultural divides generally make policy formulation a slow, often stagnant process. However, a policy can change dramatically spurred by fundamental events that can motivate the public to pressure policymakers to implement a new policy. For example, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were a punctuated moment that resulted in dramatic changes our country’s homeland security and defense policies In this paper, we will examine three areas in which the concepts of punctuated equilibrium theory can be used to illustrate and understand how the United States implemented rapid policy changes in three areas: environmental, gun-control, and homeland security. Each policy field can be directly applied to the punctual equilibrium theory because of their nature of having long periods of policy stability which are punctuated by quick shifts in policy driven by short, but intense periods of instability and change.


Written for PP 305: Advanced Public Policy Analysis.