When trying to inform their decisions on behavioral health policy, almost three-quarters of state legislators choose not to use universities, where most research is undertaken, as a primary source.
Dr. Jonathan Purtle, an assistant professor in Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health, surveyed 475 state legislators and found that just 27 percent seek research from sources in higher education.
Why so few lawmakers get their research directly from universities may have to do with the questions each side is most concerned with.
“Historically, university researchers have mainly asked research questions that are of interest to themselves and other university researchers. These are often different than the questions that are of interest to policymakers,” said Dr. Purtle, whose study was published in Psychiatric Services. “I think legislators don’t turn to university researchers because they don’t think they’ll have information that is relevant to the policy decisions they face.”
Disconnects such as those are why Dr. Purtle pursues research into how policymakers get their public health information, what they think of it, and how it affects their actions. The hope is to demystify how policies get made — and show researchers what channels are most effective in influencing them.
To that end, this study broke down survey responses by political party and found some significant splits.
Thirty-four percent of Democrats identified universities as a primary source of behavioral health research information, while just 19 percent of Republicans did.
Another stark difference was found in the source that was most popular in the study: behavioral health advocacy organizations. With 53 percent of legislators, overall, citing them as sources, it broke down to 65 percent of Democrats compared to 40 percent of Republicans.
“I was surprised that a significantly higher proportion of Democrats than Republicans reported turning to advocacy organizations,” Dr. Purtle said. “There are liberal/Democrat-leaning advocacy organizations, as well as conservative/Republican-leaning ones. I’m not sure what explains this difference. It could be that ‘advocacy’ is perceived as a left-leaning term.”