Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 20, Issue 4

Benjamin Farrer, "A theory of organizational choice: Interest groups and parties as substitutable influence mechanisms," Party Politics, 20 (July, 2014), 632-645. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
Niche party entry is a rare phenomenon but an important one, associated with sometimes dramatic shifts in policymaking and political competition (Adams et al., 2006; Ezrow, 2010; Hug, 2001; Meguid, 2008; Somer-Topcu and Adams, 2009; Spoon, 2009). Many authors have argued that such parties emerge and succeed because of the actions of mainstream parties. However, in many cases niche parties prove ineffectual. In this article, I argue that niche activists have important alternatives to new party entry. Party entry and interest group entry are both mechanisms that activists can use to gain policy influence, but their choice to support one or the other will depend on their own resources and particularly on the institutions of the state. That is, niche organizations depend on policy-motivated activist support, and so new party entry should only occur when it is the option that maximizes activists' policy influence. Where institutions make policy-making particularly responsive to political competition, mainstream politicians will be more susceptible to niche pressure, and will yield to even the less costly and less credible interest group mechanism. I argue that proportional representation electoral rules (PR) force policy-making to be more responsive to political competition, whereas corporatism and centralization lower this responsiveness of policy-making to political competition. I introduce a formal model of this process, showing that conditional on their resources, niche activists will support the less costly but less credible option of interest group entry when institutions induce high responsiveness, and will support the more costly but more credible option of party entry when institutions induce low responsiveness. I then evaluate this implication empirically, using data on individual participation in different organizations. I conclude that niche party entry is only one potential outcome in a larger game where activists can predict and respond to mainstream party strategies.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1.
Table 2.
Table 3. Means of individual-level variables.
Table 4. A Nested Logit Model of Organizational Choice.
Table 5. Conditional Probabilities of Organizational Choice.
Table 6. Absolute In-Sample Probabilities of Organizational Choice, with Mean 95% CIs

Last Paragraph:
I argue that the institutional theory of organizational substitution outlined here helps explain cross-national variation in why different interests have emerged in different organizational forms and gone on to have different levels of success. The way politics can proceed as organized in representative democracies can serve to amplify the influence of a small active constituency -- provided they choose their organizational strategy right. Parties are clearly not the only translation mechanism for turning public opinion into public policy, and a game theoretic analysis of the effects of institutions on political competition helps explain when one organizational type will be chosen over another as the optimal translation mechanism for a new issue. As well as allowing for better prediction of when new parties emerge, this also highlights the short-sightedness of major parties that prize stability and ignore new issues, especially if all major parties are biased towards ignoring issues on one side of the ideological spectrum. The analysis here implies that suppressing environmental issues, or refusing to cooperate with far-right groups, may only drive those activists towards different and more radical tactics. Thus in order to understand the optimal strategies for both activists and their major party opponents, it is important to identify the full range of options available to such actors

Last updated June 2014