Thomas T Holyoke, "The
interest group effect on citizen contact with Congress,"
Party Politics, 19 (November 2013), 925-944.
[Available at http://ppq.sagepub.com/content/vol19/issue6/
Representation requires citizens to actively communicate
their wishes and concerns to those elected to speak for
them, to keep tabs on those officials to make sure they
follow through, and to protest when they do not. Yet
political participation in the United States has been found
to be declining through much of the twentieth century,
except when it comes to interest group membership. The size
and ideological diversity of the American interest group
system has grown dramatically over the past 40 years and
brought about substantial changes in how political
organizations seek to mobilize bias on behalf of their
members (Baumgartner and Leech, 2001; Walker, 1991). Counts
vary, but it is generally believed that groups exist today
by the tens of thousands, articulating a wide range of
citizen demands backed by an arsenal of pressure
- Figures and
- Figure 1. Hypothesized relationships among variables
influencing group membership and political contact.
- Table 1. Estimates of political inclination. Maximum
likelihood estimates (robust standard errors).
- Table 2. Estimates of choosing to join professional
and citizen groups. Maximum likelihood estimates (robust
- Table 3. Estimates of contacting Congress by all and
Internet-based low-effort methods. Maximum likelihood
estimates (robust standard errors).
- Figure 2. Likelihood of online contact by group
membership and Internet familiarity.
Finally, it confirms the notion that cartel parties and
party systems can exist in the absence of a party-based
polity -- albeit that the Citizen inclination towards
political action, the role of SES in shaping it and the role
of organized interests has a long history in the literature,
and rightfully so. If representative democracy is to
function properly, with elected officials articulating the
concerns and desires of the represented, then understanding
who participates and why, and how to stimulate more of it,
is a crucial job for scholars and practitioners. Indeed, the
normative role of interest groups here is of concern. If
they are pushing theirmembers towards political action, then
lawmakers are largely hearing the demands of narrow, if
highly motivated, minorities whose success may come at the
expense of unmobilized interests. On the other hand, the
results also strongly suggest that interest groups, citizen
groups at least,may be having a type of leveling effect on
participation. Where citizens of high socio-economic status
are, all things being equalmore likely to develop sharp
civic skills and, consequently, bemore politically active,
citizen groups compensate for this to some extent, helping
lower SES citizens develop an interest in politics and
giving them opportunities, directed opportunities to be
sure, to express their interests. All of this should be the
focus of future research.