MORAPOL - Comparative Analysis of Moral Policy Change

Current Research Deficits

The empirical as well as the theoretical field of interest are confronted with remarkable research deficits and methodological problems.

Analysis of Morality Policy

Compared to other policy areas, our empirical field of interest - morality policies – has received only limited scholarly attention. First, systematic assessments of changing patterns over time are lacking. Also research endeavours are often restricted to certain subfields of morality policy (cp. Mooney 2001). Additionally, research addresses only a small number of countries, with a strong geographical biastowards the United States and the United Kingdom (Studlar 2001, Smith and Tatalovich 2003). Second, there exist no studies that systematically compare morality policy developments across a broader number of countries and over time. Most studies are case studies or small-N-studies dealing with only one to three country examples.Medium N-comparative studies are rare (one of few examples is Fink 2008); large N-studies (e.g. all countries with democracies) are non-existent. Third, there is a lack of theoretical concepts to account for policy change. As a result of the highly unsystematic empirical evidence gathered so far, very few attempts have been made to develop theoretical concepts in order to account for morality policy changes over time. In this respect, it is a highly important issue to what extent classical approaches provide feasible tools to account for changes in policy areas that are dominated by value rather than tangible interest conflicts.

Analysis of Policy Change

The theoretical focus of MORAPOL lies on the concept of policy change. This concept is of fundamental relevance in the fields of policy analysis and comparative politics. This importance, however, coincides not only with a broad variety of different definitions and conceptions of the phenomenon in the literature, but also with a surprising lack of critical discussion of the analytical consequences that emerge from different conceptual choices. Although these problems have to some extent been acknowledged in recent years (Pierson 2001), the core problem of developing a basic and encompassing definition of policy change that allows for systematic comparisons across sectors and countries is hardly addressed. A direct consequence of this situation is a low comparability of research findings and hence difficulties in advancing our theoretical understanding of policy change. This general statement still holds, although especially Sabatier (1988) and Hall (1993) made important contributions to improve our understanding of the phenomenon by distinguishing between different orders or dimensions of policy change.

Objectives and Innovation

(1) Innovative empirical focus: The project is the first to provide systematic empirical knowledge on the development of morality policies. This policy area is so far completely unexplored from a policy-analytical perspective.

(2) Combination of cross-national and longitudinal comparison: The project investigates changes in morality policies from a both cross-national and longitudinal perspective, analysing the policy development for 27 OECD countries over a period of 50 years (1960 – 2010).

(3) Comparison across different subfields: This approach is complemented by an additional comparative perspective that is based on the analysis of three different subfields of morality policy.

(4) Establishing causality through the analysis of output data: The assessment of policy change is based on policy outputs; i.e. respective national legislation. As theoretical explanations are usually linked to the behaviour of governments rather than policy outcomes (i.e. effects), policy outputs provide a more direct and valid measure of policy change as it is the case for policy outcomes.

(5) Systematic assessment of policy changes along different dimensions:The project explicitly takes account of the multidimensional nature of policies. Change is hence measured along different policy categories capturing the permissiveness or strictness of single regulations.

(6) Systematic assessment of both occurrence and direction of policy change: The project measures not only the extent to which changes take place, but also investigates the direction of these changes; i.e., whether they imply a more permissive or more strict intervention in a given policy field or subfield.

(7) Complementary combination of different methodologies: The project seeks to make valid causal inferences by using a coherent mixed-methods strategy, i.e. by combining statistical analysis with intense case-study analysis. This approach helps to reduce bias and spurious findings that might be produced when carrying out either a large-N or a small-N analysis in isolation.
(8) Theoretical and empirical assessment of change in policy fields: Based on the above innovations, the project addresses policy change from a highly differentiated and at the same time holistic perspective. Rather than starting out from pre-selected policy items, the project analyses any legislative change in the policy subfields under investigation. This way a much more encompassing and complete picture of change in policy fields is possible. This is a highly original contribution of the project. It bears considerable potential to pave the way for developing a theory of policy field changes – a contribution from which a very far-reaching scientific impact is to be expected.


MORAPOL is founded by the European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant


  • Knill, Christoph und Preidel, Caroline (2014): Institutional Opportunity Structures and the Catholic Church: Explaining Variation in the Regulation of Same-Sex Partnerships in Ireland and Italy. Journal of European Public Policy.
  • Knill, Christoph, Preidel, Caroline and Nebel, Kerstin (2014): Morality Policy in Catholic Austria: The Regulation of Abortion and Same-sex Unions. Österreichische Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft 43 (3). 275-292.
  • Knill, Christoph, Preidel, Caroline und Nebel, Kerstin (2014): Brake rather than barrier: The impact of the Catholic Church on morality policies in Western Europe. West European Politics 37 (5): 845-866.
  • Christoph Knill, Morality Policies in Europe: Concepts, Theories, and Empirical Evidence. London: Routledge, Journal of European Public Policy, Special Issue 20 (3), 2013.
  • Christoph Knill, The Study of Morality Policy: Analytical Implications from a Public Policy Perspective. Journal of European Public Policy 20 (3), 309-317, 2013.
  • Stephan Heichel, Christoph Knill, Sophie Schmitt, Public Policy Meets Morality: Conceptual and Theoretical Challenges in the Analysis of Morality Policy Change. Journal of European Public Policy 20 (3), 318-334, 2013.
  • Euchner, Eva-Maria, Heichel, Stephan, Nebel, Kerstin and Raschzok, Andreas: From "Morality" Policy to "Normal" Policy: Framing Drug Consumption and Gambling in Germany and the Netherlands and their Regulatory Consequences. Journal of European Public Policy, 20 (3): 372-389, 2013.
  • Steffen Hurka, Kerstin Nebel, Framing and policy change after shooting rampages: a comparative analysis of discourse networks. Journal of European Public Policy 20 (3), 390-406, 2013.
  • Schmitt, Sophie, Euchner, Eva-Maria and Caroline Preidel (2013): Regulating sexual behaviour in Catholic societies: A comparison between Italy and Spain. Journal of European Public Policy, 20 (3): 425-441.
  • Stephan Heichel, Christoph Knill, Institutionelle Rahmenbedingungen moralpolitischer Steuerung. Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, 34-361-7, 2013.
  • Marc Debus, Christoph Knill, Jale Tosun, Registration Fees for Same-Sex Unions, Local Party Politics and Societal Demand. Local Government Studies, 2013.
  • Christoph Knill, Der Gebührenstaat: Latente und manifeste Gebührenpolitik im Spannungsfeld rechtlicher und wirtschaftlicher Rahmenbedingungen. Der Moderne Staat 6 (1), 127-130, 2013.
  • Stephan Grohs, Christoph Knill, Jale Tosun, Der Gebührenstaat: Theoretische Überlegungen und empirische Befunde. Der Moderne Staat 6 (1), 131-152, 2013.
  • Marc Debus, Christoph Knill, Jale Tosun, Verwaltungsgebühren als Instrument symbolischer Steuerung: Kirchenaustrittsgebühren in baden-württembergischen Kommunen. Der Moderne Staat 6 (1), 191-210, 2013.
  • Marc Debus, Christoph Knill, Jale Tosun, Drum zahle, wer sich ewig bindet. Eine Analyse der Gebührenhöhe für eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaften in Baden-Württemberg. Politische Vierteljahresschrift, 53 (1), 1-28, 2012.