But a fair amount of research has found minimal evidence that lobby groups successfully influence national policy decisions. Why is there so little evidence of something so many believe to be true?
Scholars often focus on the last stages of what is a long deliberative process. The Agendas and Interest Groups project instead focuses on the early stage of designing the national governmental agenda in the first place. Focusing on the national governments of four countries (Germany, the UK, Netherlands, and the US), we consider whether (and which) groups help determine the set of policy problems governments choose to work on as well as how representative such groups are of the public’s agenda preferences.
Agendas and Interest Groups is the first comparative study of the agenda preferences of interest groups, individual citizens, and governments.
The practical realities of collective action mean that those most likely to be effectively represented are most likely to have concentrated economic interests or intensely held beliefs. And if such an interest group has a disproportionate influence on any political decision, it results in policies at odds with general public opinion and clearly poses a potential threat to democracy.
While biases in representation are clear in theory, there is little systematic evidence of disproportionate influence over government by a subset of interest groups. Furthermore, little is known about the degree of correspondence between the political preferences of interest groups and those of the public.
Specifically, the aims of the AIG project are to:
- Evaluate the degree of congruence between the concerns of citizens, the policy agendas of interest groups, and the policy priorities of national governments.
- Assess the efforts and ability of interest groups to represent societal interests in their interactions with government.
- Understand why some issues of concern to interest groups find their way onto the governmental agenda while others are excluded, and why this differs across countries.
To estimate the degree of congruence between the concerns of individual citizens and the policy agendas of interest groups and government, we will interview representatives from a random sample of 100 interest groups in each of our four countries, survey the general public in each country about their policy wishes, and track three specific issues in each of three policy areas in each country.
In mapping each country’s public, group, and government agendas, we aim to address normatively important questions about the extent and causes of inequalities in representation.