Organized Interests and the Mechanisms Behind Unequal Representation in Legislatures
26 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2021 Last revised: 27 Dec 2021
Date Written: December 23, 2021
How do organized interests contribute to unequal substantive representation in contemporary democracies? While the rapidly growing literature on unequal democracies has turned to analyzing the mechanisms underlying the biased responsiveness of elected representatives, it pays relatively little attention to the role of interest groups. We discuss two central channels through which interest groups shape unequal representation: the selection of partisan legislators through elections and post-electoral influence via lobbying. We argue that these channels are not alternative mechanisms, but potentially complementary strategies used by rational actors. Employing a game theoretic model and simulations of interest group influence on legislative voting, we show that this logic may explain interest group strategies in unequal times. It has clear implications for empirical analyses trying to unbundle electoral from post-electoral influence. Our model implies that interest group strategies vary with party polarization, and it highlights a challenge for empirical research on unequal representation and the literature on lobbying: What can be learned about mechanisms from the data alone might be limited by the strategic actions of political actors. Using statistical models commonly used in the literature to study biases in legislative voting or policy adoption, researchers are likely to overstate the relevance of elections as a channel through which groups affect legislative responsiveness and understate the role interest groups’ post-electoral influence. Our results stress the importance of theoretical models capturing the strategic behavior of political actors as a guiding light for the empirical study of mechanisms of unequal representation.
Keywords: political inequality, responsiveness, elections, interest groups, money in politcs, unions
JEL Classification: D72, J50
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation