Fay Lomax Cook

Professor of Human Development and Social Policy (on leave)


Fay Lomax Cook is faculty fellow of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University and professor of human development and social policy in the School of Education and Social Policy, with a courtesy appointment in the department of political science. Her research focuses on the interrelationships between public opinion and social policy, the politics of public policy, public deliberation, and the dynamics of public support for programs for older Americans, particularly Social Security.

From 1996 to the fall of 2012, she was director of IPR. She has been a visiting scholar at Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) in 2004-05, president of the Gerontological Society of America in 2000; a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in 1997-98; and a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation in 1987-88. She has also been a member of the Expert Panel on Performance Outcome Measurement, U.S. Administration on Aging; a member of the Ford Foundation's research advisory committee on Social Welfare Policy and the American Future; a scientific consultant to the National Institute on Aging; and a member of the North American Program Committee for the International Congress on Gerontology. She is a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and an elected member of the National Academy of Social Insurance.  

She is the author or co-author of many scholarly articles and book chapters as well as five books, including most recently Talking Together: Public Deliberation and Political Participation in America with Lawrence Jacobs and Michael Delli Carpini. She has been invited to give several keynote addresses about her work, including most recently at an international conference on Aging and Social Security sponsored by Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, and at an international conference on the dynamics of citizenship in Stockholm, Sweden.

Current Projects

Support for Energy Policy: The Views of the Public, Scientists, and Policymakers. In recent years, energy policy has become an increasingly salient political issue in the United States. Rising gas prices, coupled with a growing recognition of the connection between U.S. energy supplies and national security and increased attention to alternative energy sources, have led to a call for legislative action that to date has been addressed in piecemeal fashion. Part of developing a national energy policy lies in understanding the opinions of the public, policymakers, and energy scientists about existing energy sources, support for various energy strategies, and what they would be willing to do to conserve energy and reduce reliance on foreign oil. The purpose of this project is to do just that. In a series of three online surveys of the general public, energy scientists, and policymakers spearheaded by IPR political scientists James Druckman and former IPR research assistant Toby Bolsen (now assistant professor at Georgia State University), the three aim to (1) analyze the extent of agreement or disagreement among these three critical groups’ understanding of and attitudes toward various aspects of energy and (2) examine the processes by which individuals arrive at their energy opinions. This is the first ever comprehensive set of surveys that address issues in tandem among scientists, policymakers, and the public. A growing literature describes what is often a disconnect among policymakers and the public, and this study allows the researchers to examine the extent to which such a disconnect exists in the area of energy policy, plus it will add the views of energy scientists to the mix.

Political Participation and Civic Engagement of Wealthy Americans. Recently, the Occupy Wall Street movement and political commentators have drawn attention to wealthy Americans—in particular, the so-called “1 percent.”  Although few would deny that wealthy Americans play an important role in the social and political life of the United States, surprisingly little is known empirically about their attitudes and behavior. This is because most representative surveys of the U.S. population do not include enough wealthy Americans to describe them with any level of accuracy. (The typical survey of 1,200 to 1,500 respondents includes at most 12 to 15 wealth-holders in the top 1 percent.) With funding from the Russell Sage Foundation to principal investigator Benjamin Page, NORC at the University of Chicago conducted a survey of the top 1 percent of wealth-holders in the Chicago area, the Survey of Economically Successful Americans. Using these pilot data, this project with Page and IPR graduate research assistant Rachel Moskowitz examines the political participation and civic involvement of wealthy Americans in contrast with the public at large.

The Rhetoric of Crisis and Navigating the Changing Politics of Social Security: Public Opinion, Policy Elites and the Loss of Consensus. The discussion about Social Security has gone from the politics of consensus characterized by considerable bipartisan support for the program to what Cook calls "the politics of dissensus"—where disagreement is heated and political rhetoric about the state of the program is rampant. To understand why that is the case, this project examines similarities and differences between the rhetoric of crisis among policy elites and the general public and how the crisis rhetoric has change in four major periods over the last three decades:

  • the 1981-83 period that resulted in the 1983 Social Security Amendments that implemented a range of changes during the Reagan administration, including raising the age of full eligibility for Social Security to 67;
  • the 1995-98 period when President Clinton issued a call to “Save Social Security First” and launched national series of town hall meetings to forestall the Republicans’ attempt to cut taxes in light of the then emerging budget surplus;
  • the 2005-06 period when President Bush attempted to partially privatize Social Security;
  • and the current 2010-12 period when substantial reforms to Social Security were proposed by President Obama’s deficit commission in 2010 and by the so-called “Super Committee” in 2011.

Some Republican critics have gone so far as to label the program a “Ponzi scheme,” a charge that has been made more public than critiques in earlier periods. This case study of Social Security is important not only as an analysis of the changing debate about a policy issue but also as a case study of a number of theoretically important themes in the political science and policy sciences literature on policy feedback, democratic responsiveness, and public opinion-elite opinion congruence.

Selected Publications


Jacobs, L., F. L. Cook, and M. X. Delli Carpini. 2009. Talking Together: Public Deliberation and Political Participation in America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Cook, F. L., with J. Manza and B. Page, eds. 2002. Navigating Public Opinion: Polls, Policy, and the Future of American Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cook, F. L., with Edith J. Barrett. 1992. Support for the American Welfare State: The Views of Congress and the Public. New York: Columbia University Press.

Journal Articles and Chapters

Cook, F. L. 2011. The need for public deliberation: Giving the public a voice on affordable health insurance. Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law 36(5): 879-85. 

Cook, F. L., L. Jacobs, and D. Kim. 2010. Trusting what you know: Information, knowledge, and confidence in Social SecurityJournal of Politics 72(2): 397-412.

Cook, F. L., and M. Czaplewski. 2009. Public opinion and social insurance: The American experience. In Social Insurance and Social Justice: Social Security, Medicare, and the Campaign Against Entitlements, ed. L. Rogne, C. Estes, B. Grossman, B. Hollister, and E. Solway, 250-78. New York: Springer.

Bolsen, T,. and Cook, F. L. 2008. Public opinion on energy policy 1974-2006. Public Opinion Quarterly 72(2): 364-88.

Cook, F. L., with L. Jacobs and M. Delli Carpini. 2007. Who deliberates? Discursive participation in America. In Can the People Govern? Deliberation, Participation, and Democracy, ed. S. Rosenberg, 25-40. New York: MacMillan.

Cook, F. L. 2005. Navigating pension policy in the United States: From the politics of consensus to the politics of dissensus about Social Security. 2005. Tocqueville Review 26(2): 37-66.

Cook, F. L., with M. Delli Carpini and L. Jacobs. 2004. Public deliberation, discursive participation, and citizen engagement. In Annual Review of Political Science 7, ed. N. W. Polsby, 315-45. Palo Alto, Calif.: Annual Reviews.

Cook, F. L., with J. Manza. 2002. A democratic polity? Three views of policy responsiveness to public opinion in the United States. American Politics Research 30(6): 630-67.

Cook, F. L., with J. Barabas and B. Page. 2002. Invoking public opinion: Policy elites and Social Security. Public Opinion Quarterly 66(2): 235-64.