Can interest groups improve political participation?

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Cigler and Loomis, and to a lesser extent Strolovitch, made the claim that interest groups are a way of opening the political process to new voices. Cigler and Loomis conclude after covering the proliferation of interest groups, for instance with the growing size of the government more interest groups have arisen as well, that interest groups have increased representation. Strolovitch considers the various identities (and policies) promoted through interest groups, in particular how a groups form around a single axis of marginalization without really encompassing the intersectionality of identities. Bartels' work establishes a base where the assertion of Cigler and Loomis of the importance of interest groups in representing groups makes sense. Bartels' research finds that politicians tend to not consider the opinions of the constituents with the lowest income, and over represent those with the highest income. Considering the research of Domhoff we read earlier, it makes sense that the high income people who have established important relationships with people in power (and generally are people in power) would be more well represented. Finally Verba raises a question that is essential to this discussion, what should equal political participation/representation look like? Verba considers the right to participate, the capacity and opportunity to participate, and being heard as the different aspects of political participation.
If low income or other disadvantaged groups are not well represented by their representatives, are powerful interest groups a good alternative as Cigler and Loomis seem to assert? What are the dangers (or advantages) of implementing representation outside of the traditional forms and structures of our 'representative' government? Cigler and Loomis also say that as political parties have decreased in power interest groups have increased in power. Is this true? Can we consider various party and political systems, like the ones outlined in Andolino and Blake, as a solution to reviving parties or institutionalizing interest groups as political parties? Is the catch all party system (Andolino and Blake) weakened because the various identities of all of us are not represented?

2 Comments

I really liked how Verba not only discussed the rights and capacity to participate, but how equally those who participate are heard and see policy results. I think the problem with relying on powerful interest groups to improve representativeness is that it creates the same problems that occur on an individual level. It is clear that the more powerful lobbies are often those that represent the most powerful socioeconomic classes. Although, I do feel that especially before there are more systemic changes in other factors that define equality (education, income, etc.) it is important that there are groups organized to represent the underrepresented sects of society. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will see large change in representativeness until the larger equality issues are addressed and changes are made to the way we finance campaigns.

You pose some interesting questions, Kelly. I agree with Marissa's point that it is unlikely we will witness significant change in terms of equal representation in government and policy until financing changes are made. It is rather peculiar that changes have not been made to balance the playing field financially with respect to campaign participation, considering the obvious inequality of representation that currently exists. I would propose testing two methods: (1)Either candidates would legally be unable to accept private donations from interest groups or other organizations; or (2) there would be a reasonable cap on financial resources to fund any campaign, making the opportunity (monetarily speaking) for candidates from all levels on the socioeconomic spectrum able to participate considerably. As I've mentioned in previous posts, the more we make government accessible to underrepresented populations, the more diverse government will become and, therefore, the demographic makeup of government will more accurately reflect the interests of citizens they are responsible for representing.

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