Methodology: Mapping and comparing public, group and policy agendas

The AIG project meets its core aims through the following four objectives:

  1. To establish for the first time the level of overlap between
    • the sets of issues and policy proposals desired by the public and by interest groups, and
    • those issues being addressed by national governments;
  2. To gather and analyse information about resources, institutions, public opinion, and latent preferences to make novel inferences about which groups are more likely to successfully
    1. shape the national political agenda,
    2. attain their preferred policy outcomes, and
    3. connect public citizens and government elites;
  3. To utilize the comparative nature of our project to separate characteristics of institutions and issues (specific to each nation or policy area) from characteristics of groups (including wealth and other resources) in predicting groups’ relative success at the agenda-setting stage and in representative communication;
  4. To draw normatively important inferences about the extent of inequalities in the representation of citizens and develop recommendations about how to reduce these inequalities, drawing on best practices in certain countries and policy sectors.

The project uses interviews, surveys and documental analysis to obtain information about the salience and direction of policy issues held by the public and by IGs as well as those on the governmental agenda (see the Venn diagram figure). The unit of analysis will be at the issue level. We will compare our data about groups’ and citizens’ preferred policy agenda with public documents that detail what government is actually doing.

This mapping effort is of central importance for an assessment of the democratic credentials of the public role of IGs and for the normative reasons outlined above. Using both qualitative and quantitative analyses, we aim to identify the conditions that help a proposed policy move from being merely desired to the subject of serious attention in government.

Rationale for a cross-national study

We use a cross-national research design to assess the external validity of the normative concerns about bias. Interest group politics takes place within particular institutional and normative contexts and political opportunity structures (Kitschelt 1986, March and Olsen 1998). In particular, as we move from describing to explaining agendas and their degree of congruence, a comparative research design is essential for variation on the country-level contextual factors such as lobby regulation and institutional structures, in addition to the influence that the social norms and cultural values of different countries have on political behaviour and agenda building. Only a study that compares polities that vary on multiple explanatory variables will be able to provide insights into what explains the phenomenon of agenda setting in government decision-making.

Our project will involve data collection from four countries whose political systems enable us to control for institutional context, normative environments, and EU membership, as well as different systems of interest intermediation: Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the US. Neo-corporatist governance arrangements in place in Germany and the Netherlands are likely to affect the mobilization bias in the IG system through the inducements, most notably policy access, offered to encompassing interest organizations. By contrast, US and UK pluralist group systems offer a level of access to everyone, but government decision-makers select which interests they will listen to and which they will disregard (Streeck and Kenworthy 2005). These differences in turn are likely to affect the nature of the issues presented to government through the IG system. It is currently not at all clear whether this is the case, as most IG research consists of single-country studies, with the pluralist US case dominating the field, followed by the similarly pluralist UK case. Variation between neo-corporatist and pluralists systems is typically needed for the development of theories on the distinct parts of the influence production process (Lowery et al. 2008).


  • Kitschelt, Herbert P. 1986. ‘Political Opportunity Structures and Political Protest: Anti-Nu­clear Movements in Four Democracies.’ British Journal of Political Science 16(1): 57-85.
  • Lowery, David, Caelesta Poppelaars and Joost Berkhout. 2008. ‘The European Union Interest System in Comparative Perspective: A Bridge Too Far?’ West European Politics 31 (6):1231-52.
  • March, James G. and Johan P. Olsen. 1998. ‘The Institutional Dynamics of International Po­litical Orders.’ International Organization 52: 943-69.
  • Streeck, Wolfgang and Lane Kenworthy. 2005. ‘Theories and Practices of Neocorporatism.’ In The Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies and Globalization, Eds. Thomas Janoski, Robert R. Alford, Alexander M. Hicks and Mildred A. Schwartz. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 441-461.