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There is broad consensus in the literature on regulatory enforcement and compliance that politics matters. However, there is little scholarly convergence on what politics is or rigorous theorization and empirical testing of how politics matters. Many enforcement and compliance studies omit political variables altogether. Among those that address political influences on regulatory outcomes, politics has been defined in myriad ways and, too often, left undefined. Even when political constructs are explicitly operationalized, the mechanisms by which they influence regulatory outcomes are thinly hypothesized or simply ignored. If politics is truly as important to enforcement and compliance outcomes as everyone in the field seems to agree, regulatory scholarship must make a more sustained and systematic effort to understand their relationship, because overlooking this connection risks missing what is actually driving regulatory outcomes. This article examines how the construct of “politics” has been conceptualized in regulatory theory and analyzes how it has been operationalized in empirical studies of regulatory enforcement and compliance outcomes. It brings together scholarship across disciplines that rarely speak but have much to say to one another on this subject in order to constitute a field around the politics of regulation. The goal is to sharpen theoretical and empirical understandings of when and how regulation works by better accounting for the role politics plays in its enforcement.

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Regulation & Governance