The top Conservative think tanks shaping policy in 2024

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Love them or loathe them, think tanks play a crucial role in influencing government policy.

Also known as policy institutes, think tanks are institutions which perform research and advocacy on a whole host of subjects. While some claim to be apolitical, most will perform research on subjects in line with liberal or conservative values.

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The relationship between think tanks and politicians is an interesting topic, and their influence is often the subject of debate. However, they’re impossible for federal government to ignore; they provide free, insightful research – often accompanied with smart, sensible ideas – which can improve an administration’s public image.

Oh, and they’re well-funded too.

The Heritage Foundation

The number of think tanks across the United States has more than doubled since 1980. That said, those which have been in existence for more than 50 years are typically the larger (thus more influential) research institutes, such as the Heritage Foundation.

Founded in 1973 by political activist Paul Weyrich and policy analyst Edwin J. Feulner, Jr., the Heritage Foundation’s mission focuses on “building an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish”. Moreover, its aim is to “formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense”.

Heritage played an important role in shaping policy under the last four Republican administrations, including likely GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. The institute also publishes the annual Index of Economic Freedom – a ranking of countries’ openness to free enterprise.

Notably, Heritage played a major role in the public debate over President Bill Clinton’s 1996 Welfare Reform Bill. Like Clinton, President Joe Biden is in a must-win election year. With the institute contributing to the debate over school vouchers, election integrity and global warming, it’s likely to influence Biden administration policy as the Democrat seeks to capture anti-Trump conservatives in November’s election.

The Hoover Institution

Heritage may be one of the country’s older think tanks, but it’s in its relative infancy compared to the Hoover Institution. As the name suggests, the think tank was established by then-future president Herbert Hoover in 1919.

The institute has maintained a strong interest in foreign affairs, geopolitics, and international warfare. Having maintained a close relationship with the Trump administration from 2017-2021, it would not be surprising if Hoover has considerable role in shaping policy as the election draws nears.

The Niskanen Center

Established research institutions hold an advantage in their shaping of public policy, but it could be argued that a modern America needs modern conservative values. That’s where the Niskanen Center comes in, a little-known think tank based in Washington D.C.

The lines of left versus right were shattered by former president Trump, and the now-ten-years-old Niskanen has developed during the seismic shift from traditional politics. Rethinking the nation’s approach to policy is at the heart of the institution, with findings from “The Conservative Case for a Child Allowance” adopted in bills from Trump and Biden.

More recently, Niskanen has prioritized bipartisan working given the current complexion of Congress. Given the polarization of the United States, Niskanen has played a role in successes seldom triumphed by Democrats or Republicans.

Despite being only a decade old, Niskanen is being hailed as “one of the most creative think tanks in America today” – something which is unlikely to change anytime soon.