The State of Research on Political Parties and Interest Groups
Abstract and Keywords
This book addresses the literatures on political parties and on interest groups. It first presents a series of discussion on theoretical and methodological perspectives. This is followed by party history and parties in the electoral process. It then considers the party in government as well as bias and representation. The final part, on dimensions of behaviour, analyzes different interest group roles and forms of advocacy. The parties and interest group fields are dynamic and this book reflects judgments about research at a particular point in time.
Handbooks have long played an important role in many disciplines. In medicine and the sciences in particular, they are invaluable compendiums of the most recent and reliable scholarship. It's fair to say that handbooks have not played the same role in political science. Occasionally a handbook has emerged and enjoyed a well‐deserved half‐life as an important overview and commentary on one of our subfields. Nevertheless, there is no tradition in our discipline of periodic handbooks that aggregate the most important recent work and stand as signposts in the development of political science.
This is unfortunate. Handbooks not only tell us where we've been but how well we've been accomplishing our scholarly objectives. Most presumptuously—the Brits might say “cheekily”—handbooks can point toward the paths we should follow in our next research projects.
Political science as a discipline is indebted to Oxford University Press for recognizing this lacuna in the collective body of our scholarship and stepping in to fill it. First, under the general editorship of Robert E. Goodin, the ten‐volume Oxford Handbooks of Political Science, the first of which was published in 2006, was a massive undertaking, presenting a critical review of the state of the subdisciplines within political science. Now OUP is publishing a series of handbooks on American politics, with George Edwards serving as general editor for the series.
The editors of this volume were honored to be asked to edit a work on American political parties and interest groups. We were somewhat daunted by the recognition that the contributions and future direction of our subfield within American politics had never been examined with the critical eyes that had examined other subfields. And we were cheeky enough to believe that we and over thirty other contributors could serve as an intellectual bridge between recent research and a research agenda for the immediate future.
In this day and age of online databases and immediate access to the most recent scholarship, is there still a need for a thick tome of chapters examining the fields of both political parties and interest groups? Isn't such a book, to use the vernacular, so very “last‐century”? We think not.
Our task as editors was threefold: to organize the volume, to solicit authors, and to challenge them to produce important work that would inform future generations of scholars. We did not seek exhaustive and uncritical literature reviews. Quite the opposite. Instead, we wanted the chapters to assess critically both the major contributions to a literature and the ways in which the literature itself has developed. We wanted to encourage contributions that expressed a clear point of view. This handbook was not designed to provide scholars with a fast fact or quick citation. The authors were encouraged not to think about encyclopedic coverage, but to identify both opportunities for advancement and lines of inquiry where continued labors are not likely to bear additional fruits. The chapters in this book are intended to be read and reflected upon. Their goal is to set the agenda for the next generation, to plant seeds in the hope of stimulating new and important scholarship.
To write these chapters we solicited contributions from the most talented people writing in the fields of American parties and groups. Given their heft and expense, handbooks only gain a readership if they are written by the most distinguished scholars in the field. We consciously chose a mix of scholars. Most are senior scholars at the top of the profession, men and women who have driven scholarship forward. To fully capture where these two fields may be headed we have also included many younger scholars. These individuals have already published important work and seem destined to be central figures in the development of the parties and interest group subfields in the years to come. A quick glance at our Table of Contents attests to our success in attracting the most interesting and influential collaborators for this handbook. What is less obvious is the willingness of the vast majority of those asked to participate in the project, their enthusiasm for the goal, (p. 5) and their incredible cooperation in its reaching fruition. We are deeply appreciative of these individuals' commitment to the project, the time they spent producing these chapters, and for sharing their thoughtful insights with the profession.
In organizing this volume, we quickly realized that the literatures on political parties and on interest groups are separate more often than they are combined—though overlaps are evident throughout. We begin with a series of four chapters on theoretical and methodological perspectives.
John Aldrich and Jeffrey Grynaviski open with an examination of the role of formal theory in the study of political parties. They describe the mechanisms by which two important sets of political institutions—a polity's constitutional structures and the rules that political parties choose to regulate the behavior of their own members—interact to give structure to political outcomes in democratic polities. They note two important distinctions—first between two very different types of institutions—(1) constitutional structures, which are exogenous institutions in this context, and (2) the rules that political elites choose in order to regulate one another's behavior within a party organization to promote shared interests, endogenous institutions. The second distinction is between two different strands of research on politics that might be considered formal theory. The first applies concepts from rational choice theory, the core assumptions of which are that people have well‐defined preference functions and seek to make the best choices possible given the constraints they face. The second uses mathematical concepts to provide formal representations of behavior that are not consistent with the assumptions of rational choice theory. With these distinctions in mind, their chapter is organized around the insights that formal theory provides to three main questions. First, how do constitutional rules shape the number of parties that contest elections? Second, how do constitutional institutions and party rules impact the choices that party elites present to the electorate? Third, how do constitutional structures and party rules affect politicians' incentives to follow through on their campaign promises in office?
Andrew McFarland provides a parallel examination of the role of theory in the study of interest groups. He outlines four successive stages of theory building, with each succeeding theory retaining elements of the preceding stage while discarding other elements, seen as mistakes. The first stage was exemplified by David Truman's group theory, emphasizing the need to conduct empirical study of groups, which he considered to be the most important factor in defining public policy. The second stage was Robert Dahl's pluralism, depicting the causal role of interest groups as less central, while portraying the political system as fundamentally decentralized. The third stage was the multiple elitist theory exemplified by Mancur Olson and Theodore Lowi, in which decentralized systems are largely in the control of policy‐specific special‐interest coalitions among groups, government agencies, and legislative committees. This is largely due to the difficulty in organizing widely diffused constituencies. The fourth stage is neopluralism, which holds that countervailing power groups check such subgovernmental coalitions. The countervailing groups mobilize in reaction to (p. 6) the advocacy of policy networks, lobbying coalitions, patrons, and social movements. McFarland treats concepts such as niche theory, coalition formation, social networks, lobbying influence, and internal democracy in relation to neopluralism and identifies these as promising areas for further research.
Hans Noel and Scott Ainsworth have written chapters on research methodology that similarly examine political parties and interest groups in parallel ways. Noel notes that parties are difficult to study for at least two reasons: first, because they are often informal and often extralegal institutions that do not follow transparent and universal rules; and, second, because they permeate so many domains of politics—all branches of the government at the state and federal level, the electorate, and other organizations concerned with governing. He then focuses on methods used to study parties, particularly quantitative approaches that attend to these difficulties, addressing methodological issues within various domains as well as the question of party cleavage and realignment that bridges the domains. In each case he outlines the various methods that have been used to study the key questions, presents the strengths and weaknesses of each, and deals with the claims of competing models. Noel concludes with a plea for creativity in exploring new methods and with the assertion that party scholars must be familiar with the wide variety of methods used to study questions across the entire expanse of the field.
Ainsworth utilizes many interest group classics as well as a wide range of new works to illustrate key methodological concerns for the interest group subfield. In his view methodological advances are helpful when they illuminate puzzles in new ways. Each of the three main sections of the chapter starts with a condensed discussion of classical approaches to interest group studies and then introduces newer research encompassing important methodological advances. For example, Ainsworth couples his discussion of pluralism and social capital with an introduction to partitioning games, social decisions, and event history analysis. In the second section he examines the strengths and weaknesses of descriptive work, coupling this with discussion of maximum likelihood econometric methods and the methodological issues stemming from unobserved actions and counterfactuals. In the last section Ainsworth analyzes the role of information, noting that many recent lobbying models focus on information transmission. It is often thought that information from interest groups is hopelessly biased. Ainsworth, however, argues that interest groups and lobbyists must compete with numerous sources for information, including elections, public opinion, markets, and bureaucracies, and these alternative sources for information may themselves be biased. He predicts that scholars will move toward developing more comprehensive information‐screening models because government officials are simply awash with information.
These chapters are followed by three on party history. Joel Silbey opens this part with a sweeping analysis of the history of American political parties. Silbey uses the lens of critical election theory to examine scholarly treatment of the development of parties as institutions, of the relationship between parties and the electorate, of the (p. 7) means that parties have used to communicate with and build relationships with the electorate, and of the existence and definition of party systems. He concludes that forces have been mounting to challenge the primacy of party as the organizing element of American politics for more than a century, with some concluding that their long history would end in fragmentation and irrelevance, not realignment and renewal. But others have claimed that increased polarization of recent decades signals party revitalization. Silbey lays out the agenda for future scholars—to rethink what this recent history means and possibly to develop new organizational paradigms.
Mark Brewer argues that, at their most fundamental level, political parties have one primary goal: the construction of a coalition that enables them to win elections and exercise governmental power. Groups are the building blocks of these coalitions, and in each election cycle parties and their politicians devote an enormous amount of thought, time, and resources to determining which groups in American society might be enticed to support them and then to making this possible support a reality. Assembling a winning electoral coalition is marked by high levels of risk and uncertainty. Brewer examines the composition and evolution of the electoral coalitions of the Republican and Democratic parties since the 1930s, finding both constancy and change over time. Both parties' electoral bases continue to reflect in some ways the political divides of the New Deal—the less affluent, Americans residing in union households, and urban dwellers have consistently been key elements of the Democratic coalition while the Republicans have long enjoyed support from more affluent Americans and non‐southern white Protestants. But each party has also seen significant change to its coalition, especially since the 1980s. The Democratic Party now relies much more on African Americans, women, and those with low levels of religious salience to win elections, while today's GOP is more reliant on southern whites, evangelical Protestants, those with high levels of religious salience, and Roman Catholics.
John Green's “The Party Faithful: Religion and Party Politics in America” looks at religious groups as one of the basic building blocks of party coalitions. After exploring why religion is relevant to party politics in conceptual terms, he compares the religious character of the major party coalitions in the past with those in the contemporary context, explicitly comparing data from 1952 with those from 2008, discussing separately ethno‐religious groups and theologically religious groups as they divide between the parties. He concludes that religious voting blocs are an integral part of American politics and that the faith‐based elements of the major party coalitions have changed as the country changed, sometimes in degree and sometimes in kind. Finally, Green describes “party faithful” in the early years of the twenty‐first century, distinguishing the Democratic coalition, based on various kinds of religious minorities, led by black Protestants, along with less observant white Christians and people unaffiliated with organized religion, from the Republicans, the core of whom is made up of various kinds of Protestants, especially white Evangelicals, and observant white Christians. His speculation (p. 8) suggests that the relationship between religious groups and the major political parties will evolve in interesting ways during the Obama years.
The next four chapters revolve around parties in the electoral process. For most of the nation's first century political parties controlled access to the ballot. Nomination procedures changed radically during the Progressive era, with the advent and spread of direct primaries, and have been evolving ever since. Two chapters look at the role of political parties in nominations. Raymond La Raja examines the roles that parties play in state and local nominations and the research on those roles, finding a relative dearth of scholarship despite the opportunities for important comparative work. He explores three separate sets of questions. He turns first to different institutional rules and laws and how different recruitment practices can determine who runs for office. La Raja notes that two schools of thought have dominated the work in this area, with some scholars following a traditional utility model and others a sociological approach. Despite this research, however, we still have no clear answers as to who fills this gap when party organizations lose their dominant position in recruiting and selecting candidates for office. Next he turns to a series of questions regarding how different selection schemes affect the political parties as institutions—power distribution within the organizations, the extent to which parties are ideologically coherent, their electoral success or failure. Finally, looking at the broader picture, La Raja explores the implication of different nominating procedures for voter participation, for representation, and for governing. Throughout his chapter La Raja points to the variation in key factors that can be studied when one compares the experiences of the fifty states in determining partisan candidates.
In his chapter on the role of parties in presidential nominations, William Mayer traces the evolution of the presidential nominating process and the role of party in securing presidential nominations from the founding to the modern era. He notes, as do others in this volume, that the role of party qua organization has given way to a plebiscitary process that operates under the party mantle and rules set by the national parties. After describing the modern nominating process and identifying five generalizations about the process that one can derive from recent experience—that the process starts inordinately early, that Iowa and New Hampshire have influence out of proportion to their populations, that many candidates drop out of the race either before or just after the first delegates are selected, that the process normally ends by March, and that the national conventions' role in decision making is negligible—Mayer raises questions that remain about the nominating process. Specifically, he directs scholars' attention to exploring how citizens make choices among multiple candidates without the benefit of the cue of party and to focusing on the question of how politics and governance in the United States are different from those in other nations because of the way our chief executive is nominated.
Daniel Shea reviews the seemingly paradoxical positions that, at the same time, party organizations have been revitalized while citizen attraction to party has (p. 9) declined. He cites a number of explanations for this phenomenon that scholars noted late in the twentieth century and then focuses on how the 2000 election marked a significant transformation in partisanship and in citizen activity. Shea argues that recent changes in the electoral process have afforded party organizations with the opportunity to bring citizens back under the party rubric. While in the past parties focused on a top‐down strategy to attract activists by following a charismatic leader, the 2008 Obama campaign combined Obama's charisma with grassroots efforts using the Internet and web‐based communications—the first truly Net roots campaign, a bottom‐up effort. These techniques provide local, state, and national party organizations the chance to energize citizens under their labels for governing purposes as well as for political gain. But whether party organizations take advantage of this opportunity is less than clear. Revitalized party organization that did not connect with the citizens led to low turnout elections and general citizen apathy. Shea argues that technological changes—the opportunity for parties to mobilize citizens for governing as well as voting—can lead to a new role for party, an engaged citizenry, and a healthier democracy.
The role and fate of political parties other than the two major parties in our two‐party system have attracted a great deal of scholarly attention. As Ronald Rapoport notes, even categorizing these as “third parties” is deceptive; often more than three parties contest an election, and all minor parties are certainly not alike. Rapoport analyzes the challenges faced by those seeking to launch third parties, focusing on the nature of our electoral system and differing findings on the impact of changing ballot access requirements. Turning to the factors that lead to electoral success or failure, Rapoport notes both factors that “push” voters away from the two major parties and those that “pull” voters toward third party candidates. He emphasizes both proximity of the stand taken by a third party to those of the voter (as compared to those of the major party candidates) and the priority that both the voter and the candidate give to issues. Perhaps the most important question regarding third parties relates to their impact on the existing party system. Rapoport lays out a “dynamic of third parties,” moving consequentially from a third party with a large and identifiable issue constituency from which it receives substantial support, to one of the major parties bidding for that constituency, and to the response of the third party's supporters to that effort.
Since the early writing of V. O. Key, political scientists have examined party not only in terms of party in the electorate and the electoral process, but also in terms of party organization. Paul Herrnson has contributed the first of our four chapters in this area, focusing on the development of national party organizations, their relationship with other party committees, and their evolving role in contemporary elections. Herrnson traces the parties' organizational response to their gradual, but nonetheless evident, decline from their peak of power and influence in the late nineteenth century. He highlights how party institutionalization has resulted in a nationalization of politics in two ways: in terms of rules that govern party (p. 10) procedures and in terms of campaign activities. Today's parties are characterized as fiscally solvent, organizationally stable, well staffed, and professionally decisive. They play important roles in all aspects of modern campaigning, working with consultants, recruiting some candidates and discouraging others, providing campaign expertise and services, assisting in fundraising, running independent advertising on their own. Political parties are, above all else, electoral institutions. The national party organizations have responded to changes in the electoral environment in ways that permit them to remain important players on the contemporary political scene.
Byron Shafer focuses attention on national party conventions, the “pure partisan institutions” of American politics. Shafer begins with the conceptual distinction between the convention as an institutional mechanism for making decisions and the convention as an institutional arena for reflecting social forces, on his way to an argument that the changed institution still functions as a window on major aspects of American politics. A series of social changes following the First World War did draw the nomination outside the convention, leading ultimately to reform of the process of delegate selection as well. What resulted was the convention as “infomercial.” Yet the contents of its message continue to reflect important aspects of modern American politics, aspects effectively studied within its confines. Thus, conventions present composite portraits of the two parties—normally quite different portraits—for the American electorate. Their delegates offer a collective portrait of the active party, in its own right and in relationship to the general public. And the inevitable differences between conventions—between the two parties' conventions in one year or between the same party's conventions over time—function as both a concise snapshot of the context of presidential politics in a given year and a focused sample of the larger and ongoing politics around them.
Activists in political parties potentially have more influence over the directions that parties take, the outcomes of elections, and party role in governance than they would have were they just ordinary citizens and voters. Walter Stone discusses the place of party activists in the electoral process, focusing first on why they become involved, how they influence party nominations, and how they influence the general elections. The central question for scholars of party activists has been the extent to which their influence is problematic for democracy because they lack formal constituencies, are not accountable to others for their actions, and are unrepresentative of their party's rank and file not only in their resources and commitment but also in their policy positions. Activists have the potential to undermine the integrative function of the parties that democratic theorists value so highly. Stone argues that we as a discipline need research designs capable of linking activist participation to electoral outcomes before we can conclude that distortion actually occurs, an organic approach to the study of parties and elections, rather than focusing on one or another set of actors, such as voters, candidates, or activists. He then presents new empirical evidence from an (p. 11) integrated study of the 2006 congressional elections to demonstrate the potential for such an approach. He concludes with a call for work on the micro foundations of activists' behavior, including their links to groups external to parties, in order to understand better how activists' roots affect party behavior.
David Magleby examines the development of political consultants in American politics and the increasing interaction of consultants and political parties, first tracing the history and describing the broader role that consultants play in American politics and then discussing in more detail specific functions that consultants have taken over for parties and for individual campaigns. Money has been a key factor in the developing role of consultants due to the cost of specialized functions and the limitations placed on spending by various regulations under the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (amended in 1974) and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Magleby then lays out a typology of consultant functions and discusses the growing interdependency between parties and consultants. A controversy in the scholarly literature on the impact of the rise of consultants on political parties has arisen around the nature of this interdependency. Some argue that the rise of consultants has weakened parties; a second group contends that the rise of consultants is a sign of weak parties, but not a cause of party decline; and a third group suggests that strong parties would still rely on consultants because of the development of campaign technology. Finally, Magleby lays out an ambitious agenda for scholars to examine as this relationship develops in upcoming campaigns.
The next four chapters focus on the party in government. David Rohde and Barbara Sinclair look at the development and current state of party organization in the House and Senate respectively. They each examine existing theories that explain party influence in legislatures, applying them to the quite different contexts of the two houses of the US Congress.
Rohde notes how party organizations are visibly stronger and majority party influence over the agenda, member behavior, and legislative outcomes has increased since the time, thirty‐five years ago, when David Mayhew argued that congressional parties were of little consequence. He provides a critical overview of the major theoretical perspectives on party leadership, organization, and activity in the House. He does so by reviewing Mayhew's and Fiorina's work that emphasized the electoral connection, his own conditional party government model (amplified by and with Aldrich and others) that expanded the electoral concern to include other member incentives (e.g., policy preferences, influence within the chamber, etc.), Krehbiel's critique that explains congressional behavior based on member preferences without including party as an explanatory variable (because the two parties' actions were offsetting), and Cox and McCubbins's cartel theory, which emphasizes the importance of party in electoral outcomes for members and of the majority party's role in agenda setting. Rohde then raises major issues for future research into the role of party in the House that emerge from his review, including, (p. 12) among others, the centrality of control of the congressional agenda and the mechanisms of agenda control, including the Rules Committee. Rohde concludes his chapter with a call for students of congressional behavior not only to include a discussion of the findings of earlier work as they pursue their studies, but also to ask whether those findings remain accurate, given the changing nature of our political institutions and processes.
Barbara Sinclair notes that treating the Senate separately from the House in discussing party effects is justified because of the unusual rules that govern Senate consideration of legislation. Thus, the extent to which party controls the agenda in the Senate is limited; given this limited agenda control, incentives for senators to follow their party and the reasons that senators contribute to party endeavors when they are a collective good on which individuals could free‐ride require explanation. Sinclair reviews the development of party organization in the Senate and conflicting explanations of why the Senate has not developed majority agenda‐control mechanisms—with some arguing that inherited rules have been the best explanation while others counter that the costs of changing the rules outweigh the benefits for a majority of the senators. She notes that party plays a lesser role in the Senate than in the House, but because of the agenda‐setting influence of the majority leader, a significant one nonetheless. Sinclair also examines the question of negative agenda setting in the Senate, noting research that shows that the majority party is rarely rolled in the Senate. She calls for more nuanced theory building in studying party influence in the Senate. It is important to understand agenda setting in a broader context, not just in terms of bringing bills to the floor (or even preventing them from coming to the floor), but also in terms of writing proposals. And, it is necessary to take the multiple‐goals aspect of existing theory seriously, exploring the implications of senators' multiple goals for party influence within the chamber.
David Brady looks at intra‐party and inter‐party coalitions in the Congress over the nation's history, noting, first, that a degree of heterogeneity within our parties has been a constant of our government and, second, that because of our congressional voting procedures and means of elections, intra‐party differences are more difficult to capture in the American context by examining legislative votes than they are in parliamentary systems. He turns to an examination of bipartisan coalitions in the last three decades, a period of acknowledged increased polarization between the parties and increased party line voting in Congress. Brady asserts that legislative outcomes, such as the tax cut during President George H. W. Bush's administration, the failure of health care reform during the Clinton administration, or the passage of the $900 billion stimulus package at the beginning of the Obama administration, cannot be adequately explained without examining intra‐party coalitions. While the profession has rightly sought to explain the observed increase in partisanship, political scientists will not achieve a clear picture of the relationship between elections, the distribution of preferences over party, and the (p. 13) policy coalitions that can be formed without continued examination of the nature of the limited bipartisan coalitions that still form, the policy areas in which these do form, limited examples of bipartisanship as seen, for example, in co‐sponsoring of legislation, and the nature of preferences and factions within, as opposed to between, the parties.
Sidney Milkis and Jesse Rhodes's chapter investigates the troubled relationship between the presidency and the political parties. As they suggest, this relationship has never been easy; but its dynamics have varied over the course of American political history. Patronage politics that emphasized grassroots mobilization and subordinated executive administration to party control held sway for most of the nineteenth century. Party dominance limited the scope of federal activity, but it also promoted a vigorous democratic politics grounded in state and local affairs. The Progressive era witnessed the stirrings of a new order that would raise the administrative presidency to primacy and challenge locally based party politics. This order was consolidated during the New Deal, which institutionalized a modern presidency that would govern above party in the name of national welfare and national security. Milkis and Rhodes contend that the powerful presidency that permitted the nation to address economic and foreign policy challenges also threatened the practice of American democracy by undermining the party ties linking citizens to government. In recent decades, however, yet another relationship between the president and the parties has emerged. This system holds both promise and perils for American citizenship, Milkis and Rhodes argue. Recent presidents are active party builders, articulating party doctrine, raising funds, and mobilizing citizens. While these behaviors may promote a more vigorous and participatory democracy, presidents' party leadership may devolve into party domination, enervating the capacity of the party to hold the president accountable for his actions.
Gerald Wright notes the difficulty in studying state party organizations because of the conceptual complexity of the subject—there are fifty separate and different state party systems, each with a party organization, a party electorate, and party in government. Not only do these component parts vary from state to state, but the interrelationships among them vary as well. Scholarly efforts are further hampered because of the difficulty in gathering data to analyze these differences. Two reform traditions can be identified: the progressive movement that led to state efforts to regulate the political process and weaken what were seen as corrupt patronage‐driven political parties, and the mid‐twentieth‐century efforts by political scientists to strengthen political parties by advocating a more responsible party model. All helped to shape both the current contours of state parties and the scholarly efforts to study them. Wright contends that political science research has focused too narrowly on strength and competitiveness of political parties and thus has ignored important questions concerning the impact of strong parties and party principles and goals. Examining both existing research and future research directions, he (p. 14) concludes that important questions remain to be tackled, that conceptual complexity must still be resolved. These include looking beyond assumptions inherent in the model of traditional party organizations and the implications of increasingly polarized political parties for representation of relatively moderate state electorates. Fortunately, the availability of new data sources is cause for optimism about continued progress on these questions.
The first of two parts on interest groups offers five chapters on bias and representation. Kay Schlozman's contribution to this collection addresses perhaps the most central and compelling question of the subfield: who is represented by interest groups and is that representation equitable or biased? Her analysis builds on a unique database that she and her colleagues have built over the years. Using Washington Representatives, a directory of lobbying organizations in Washington, she is able to outline the contours of the Washington interest group system. Schlozman's longitudinal database is revealing. Despite all the changes that have taken place in American politics, the conclusion drawn by E. E. Schattschneider a half century ago that the pressure system is fundamentally biased in favor of business and professional interests is still accurate. Her data do point toward a much more diverse interest group system but the have‐nots and have‐a‐littles seem no better represented today than they were in 1981, the first of her data points. Schlozman identifies two culprits for this continuing bias: the collective action problem and the lack of resources on the part of those underrepresented in the interest group universe. Given the continuity of her findings over four separate data points over a quarter of a century, she is not optimistic that change is on the way. Public interest groups, for example, were 3.8 percent of all interest groups in 1981. The 2006 data show them to constitute just 4.1 percent of the universe. She concludes that “as the heavenly chorus has gotten bigger, neither its accent nor the mix of voices has been transformed.”
Many scholars have begun research endeavors with the goal of documenting business influence, through its lobbying, campaign contributions, and the shared class‐wide interests among elites. In his chapter, “The Mobilization and Influence of Business Interests,” Mark Smith cautions against this view of business as a powerful monolith. Rather, Smith emphasizes, business is highly diverse, with conflicting interests and facing many significant obstacles to exercising power. Although the discipline has made some progress in documenting the degree to which influence is exercised by business, the research constitutes a surprisingly modest literature. Indeed, Smith calls the study of business a “niche area” in the discipline. Given the centrality of business in the lobbying world, this is certainly a counterintuitive claim. One reason political scientists have not done more extensive work on business is that the actual substance of business lobbying, policy areas such as taxation and finance, are ones that elicit little excitement within the profession. He offers a second reason, too: the sheer difficulty of doing empirical research on business lobbying. With the exception of political action committee (p. 15) (PAC) statistics, there is little in the way of existing databases that can easily be drawn upon by political scientists studying business. And this is where Smith makes his most emphatic argument. In his mind the study of business will not progress significantly until more political scientists design projects based on extensive empirical research. We need more scholars in the field armed with sharper measuring instruments.
In their chapter “Social and Economic Justice Movements and Organization,” Dara Strolovitch and David Forrest analyze the representation of chronically marginalized constituencies, especially women, racial minorities, gays and lesbians, and the poor. There has certainly been a growth of organizations representing these constituencies in recent decades, yet the extent to which these groups have fulfilled their promise to equalize representation “is the source of much debate.” To various degrees these movement organizations have become institutionalized and yet retain many characteristics of their earlier roots. Strolovitch and Forrest find that in comparison to interest groups in general, organizations representing marginalized groups are distinctive as they are far less likely to use professional lobbyists, employ a legal staff, or have an affiliated PAC. The authors also stress that advocacy organizations in these broad identity areas do not typically represent “unitary constituencies” but rather ones that are “intersectional” in nature. As multiple interests of race, gender, or social class come together in individual organizations, the most marginalized constituencies within these groups often receive the least active representation.
Despite the difficulties they face, these organizations play a vital role in the policymaking process. They do sometimes prevail and influence the government in ways that benefit the disadvantaged. Looking to the future, Strolovitch and Forrest call on scholars to draw on policy feedback and social constructionist frameworks and to identify the circumstances under which these organizations are most effective in representing their constituencies.
David Lowery and Virginia Gray draw a contrast between the “explosion of large‐n studies” and the more modest progress in theory building and hypothesis testing in research on state‐level interest groups. What they term the “logic of segmentation” has created boundaries which have raised barriers to progress in the development of normal science and the evolution of broader theories. They criticize the national‐level literature for ignoring many important questions about interest representation. Indeed, they believe there is a “one‐way pattern of influence” between national interest group studies and state‐level studies. For example, the relationship between groups and political parties has received relatively little attention by scholars of Washington politics, while the state politics literature has had a focus on this subject since Belle Zeller's time. Another area where state interest group scholars are ahead of their national counterparts is in the relationship between public opinion and organized interests. Lowery and Gray also note that state‐level research is well suited for understanding how institutional (p. 16) design affects interest group communities and advocacy. The variation that states provide allows more sophisticated and ambitious inquiry into this problem. Lowery and Gray do, however, end on a note of optimism, concluding that the state literature is no longer as isolated from the more general research on interest groups.
Following Lowery and Gray's examination of interest groups in the states, Jeffrey Berry moves down the federal system to urban politics. Although the study of groups in cities was the source of pluralist theory, which catalyzed the most enduring debate in the subfield, recent research on urban interest groups has had relatively limited impact on theory. Instead work on interest groups is dominated by research on national politics. Berry argues forcefully that studying local groups through the lens of theories about national groups is perilous. He says city groups are not merely smaller versions of national lobbies but, rather, they are fundamentally different. He outlines four basic structural differences, the understanding of which should serve as a foundation for future research on urban interest group politics. First, there are usually low barriers to entry for urban groups. Second, urban politics is highly sensitized to planning for projects in neighborhoods and this locational basis of policymaking enhances the influence of small neighborhood associations. These groups, in turn, play a much larger role in city politics than their meager resources would otherwise suggest. A third difference is that citizen participation requirements provide neighborhood groups and citywide citizen groups significant leverage in negotiations with developers and city planners. Fourth and finally, he notes that state and local agencies are highly dependent on non‐profits. In cities, collaborative policymaking tying together non‐profit and agency leaders is very much the norm in the area of social services.
The final part, on dimensions of behavior, analyzes different interest group roles and forms of advocacy. Frank Baumgartner begins his chapter paying homage to E. E. Schattschneider, crediting him with initiating the study of interest groups and agenda building. Schattschneider encouraged us to think about how interest groups try to expand conflict when they are in a disadvantageous position in the development of a policy decision. Baumgartner proceeds systematically to demonstrate how this literature on agenda building has come together to illuminate lobbying strategies. He cautions against the common assumptions about the power of interest groups, noting for example, that recent research has demonstrated that groups are very limited in their ability to reframe issues. Rather, they are more effective at protecting the status quo. Baumgartner also notes that there is an enormous disparity between what lobbyists are working on in Washington and the priorities of the American public. He is most forceful in drawing out the biases of interest group mobilization and linking those advantages to the politics of agenda setting. He notes, “bias comes from the fact that some segments of society mobilize powerfully and speak with amplified voices and others mobilize little or (p. 17) not at all.” Baumgartner outlines some fruitful areas of research on agenda building, including interest groups and venue shopping and the relative effectiveness of coalitions of interest group advocates and government officials.
Beth Leech's chapter examines the influence of interest groups on public policy making. Despite the substantial amount of research that has been done in this area, her review of the literature demonstrates that findings are often contradictory; some scholars find substantial interest group influence while others find groups to be relatively weak. PAC studies are an interesting case in point. Reviews of the research reveal that a significant portion of published work find PAC contributions unrelated to legislative votes, others find a mixed picture, and still others find that money does influence votes. From her analysis Leech argues that “We have been measuring the wrong things in the wrong ways.” She supports this contention by explicating key methodological problems. Such flaws include case selection bias; focusing on a single stage of the policymaking process; and incorrect assumptions about how the policymaking process works. Leech identifies three general means by which interest groups might influence legislation: effectively purchasing votes with campaign contributions; mobilizing constituencies or signaling constituency preferences to the legislator; and providing information or otherwise subsidizing those in office. What she concludes is that available evidence is most supportive of the third of these possibilities, supplying useful information to elected officials. In the end, though, interest group influence through this channel is highly contingent.
Clyde Wilcox and Rentaro Iida explore the myriad ways that interest groups are active in American elections, and the difficulties that scholars face in answering basic questions about this activity. Although PAC formation and contributions data are accessible and accurate, these authors note that PACs do not constitute the only way that interest groups give, and that contributing is not the only way that groups are active in elections. Studies of group strategies, of the impact of group activities in elections, and of the impact of interest group electoral activities on policy making must take into account an increasing amount of activity that is not fully disclosed. The authors note that the way groups have been active in the past few election cycles raises important questions about how to conceive of interest group involvement. Networks of interest group leaders, partisan activists, and donors have collaborated on strategies and shifted resources, sometimes based on studies on efficacy of past strategies.
Since this is a handbook on both political parties and interest groups, we conclude the collection with Michael Heaney's examination of the relationship between groups and parties. In Heaney's mind the two are “inextricably linked.” He proceeds along four tracks to analyze these ties and to point toward the next stages of research. The first relationship he identifies is that of co‐evolution. Over the course of American history parties and groups have changed partially in response to each other. Second, parties and groups attempt to discipline each other, by trying to control what kinds of agents act on their behalf. Heaney's (p. 18) third relationship is that of brokerage. Within each other's networks, operatives from groups or parties may play a key role in bringing various factions to the bargaining table. Fourth, parties and groups are linked by political identities. Ideology may bring groups and a party together but may also create tensions as each sector tries to define the boundaries of the identity they share. Although scholars are increasingly aware of these links, Heaney is critical of the scholarship that has emerged so far. The case study approach has dominated and Heaney says that it is time for research to push toward systemic knowledge and more sophisticated theory building. He encourages political scientists to think not so much of party coalitions or interest group coalitions, but to focus instead on “political coalitions.”
The parties and interest group fields are dynamic and this handbook reflects judgments about research at a particular point in time. New research will quickly come to the fore and will work to reshape such evaluations. Yet the chapters in this book have analyzed long‐term developments in various specialties and the challenges our authors have identified are sure to remain as central issues as our discipline moves forward. Each of our authors has offered valuable insights into the kinds of problems that are central to the next stages of research. We hope that these chapters prove to be valuable guides as readers ponder their own research agendas.
New databases and new research techniques are expanding opportunities and enabling researchers to rigorously and systematically test their ideas. For reasons of space and coherence we limited the subject matter in the chapters that follow to parties and groups in the United States. Nevertheless, comparative research that includes the United States is likely to expand greatly in the years to come. In particular, research on the European Union has exploded and it's assuredly the case that there will be increasing cross‐fertilization of ideas across the pond as well as more directly collaborative work. This is an exciting time to be working in fields of political parties or interest groups. (p. 19)