Louder Chorus -- Same Accent: The Representation of Interests in Pressure Politics, 1981-2011
54 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2013
Date Written: 2013
What kinds of interests are represented by organizations in Washington? A half century ago, E.E. Schattschneider warned famously that “the flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with an upper-class accent.” In particular, he argued that organizations on behalf of both broad publics and those who lack resources are relatively rare. Subsequent empirical investigations have confirmed Schattschneider’s observation. In this paper, we examine how the growth and changing composition of the pressure system have affected the extent to which it is representative of the American public.
This paper draws upon an extensive data base assembled by our research team and used in our recent book, The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2012). Since the completion of that project we have added data about 2011 so that the data base includes nearly 35,000 organizations, comprising all the organizations listed at least once in the Washington Representatives directories (Columbia Books) published in 1981, 1991, 2001, 2006, and 2011 as having been active in Washington politics. We have categorized these organizations into 96 categories based on their organizational structure and the nature of the interest being represented (for example, business, an occupation, a blue-collar union, a foreign government, a group of universities, a religious or ethnic group, or a conservative think tank). In addition, for each organization, we have collected information about such matters as its founding date and its spending on lobbying.
These data permit us to shed light on the fundamental aspect of democratic equality, the question of who has voice in national politics. Tracing organizations active in Washington politics over a thirty-year period, we are able to ascertain how the Washington pressure system has grown over the decades and to determine whether that growth represents newly founded organizations or the entry into politics of previously existing organizations. Furthermore, by asking whether that growth has been uniform across sectors we are able to trace the changing distribution of both the kinds of organized interests and spending on lobbying. In particular, we are able to inquire whether the much-noticed increase in the number of citizen organizations has been matched by equivalent growth in the kinds of organizations -- for example, corporations, trade associations, professional associations, and unions -- that have traditionally formed the backbone of the pressure system, thus, leaving the overall distribution of organizations, and the distribution of lobbying spending, fundamentally unchanged.
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