Louder Chorus - Same Accent: The Representation of Interests in Pressure Politics, 1981-2011

Kay Lehman Schlozman, Philip Edward Jones, Hye Young You, Traci Burch, Sidney Verba, and Henry E. Brady

Citizens in American democracy have many channels for the expression of political voice, one among them being organized interest politics in Washington. But the representation of citizen preferences and needs in organized interest politics is neither universal nor representative. That is, not all voices speak equally loudly in organized advocacy politics and systematic processes operate to influence which voices are amplified by a megaphone and which ones speak in a whisper. The result is pronounced inequalities of political voice. In this chapter, we draw upon the Washington Representatives Study, an extensive database covering the period from 1981 to 2011, to examine how the growth and changing composition of the pressure system have affected the extent to which it is representative of the American public.1 We find that, for all the diversity among the thousands of organizations active in Washington, the free-rider problem and the resource-constraint problem have a profound impact on political input from organizations. Policymakers hear much more from advocates for narrow interests than from supporters of broad public interests and much more from those with deep pockets than from the less affluent.

Tracing organizations active in Washington politics over a thirty-year period, we ascertain how the Washington pressure system has grown over the decades and determine whether, at the same time, the balance among the kinds of interests represented has been altered. In particular, we 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 fundamentally unchanged. In addition, we adduce data about the number of in-house lobbyists on staff, the number of outside firms retained, and, for 2001 and 2011, the number of dollars spent on lobbying Congress to assess the growth, and changing balance, in the human and financial resources devoted by organizations to political advocacy. What we find is more of the same: more organizations, more professional government relations personnel, and more dollars invested in lobbying but little change in the kinds of interests represented. A half century ago, E. E. Schattschneider (1960, 35) observed famously that "the flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with an upper-class accent." The chorus now has more members, and they sing more loudly, but the accent is unchanged.

 
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