To what extent can a common conceptual framework or model be used to study climate and energy policy trajectories of states whose political and economic systems differ widely? In this paper we are concerned with long-term policy trajectories rather than day-to-day politics. For this purpose, frameworks focusing on generic forces and essential functions in society seem to be the most useful. The paper outlines a framework and indicates how it may be applied to very different political systems such as those of the United States and China. Our point of departure is the assumption that in all systems policy development is driven by two generic forces: (societal) demand and (governmental) supply. These forces interact and co-produce policies, but the ways in which they do so vary significantly depending on characteristics of political institutions, cultures and other nation-specific factors. Moreover, building on classical contributions to political science, we assume that in all systems policy-making involves cer tain essential functions, one being the aggregation of preferences. Again, the specific institutional arrangements and processes through which preferences are aggregated will vary with nation- specific factors and be important determinants of outcomes. Yet, it seems that much of this variance can be captured and systematically analyzed by means of a model conceiving of outcomes as a function of (a) “the rules of the game”; (b) demand-supply configurations, and (c) the distribution of power. This model can be useful in understanding outcomes in autocratic as well as democratic systems, and we employ empirical illustrations from the United States and China to indicate how this kind of analysis might be designed and carried out.