This chapter analyses the main contributions to the study of interest groups and agenda setting. Since its origins, interest groups research has mainly been oriented to explaining who has power and how power is organized in a democratic political system from a normative and empirical perspective. For some authors, interest groups’ political influence depends on their ability to overcome the problem of “free-riders”, generate resources – from campaign contributions to information resources – and survive across time. Other authors argue that interest groups’ influence particularly depends on how the policy-making process is structured. Institutions define which interests are in and out of the policy-making process, determine the goals and strategies of policy actors, and impose important limits to the dissemination of ideas and new ways of thinking about issues. Finally, some scholars stress that interest groups’ capacity to promote policy change depends on their ability to promote new ideas and policy alternatives, shifting the focus of the debate to one dimension to another. Advocates of all of these perspectives agree that the pressure system is biased in favor of a privileged small set of interest groups that impose important limits on which issues policy makers prioritize and how these issues are framed.
Laura Chaqués Bonafont
Interest groups are a necessary condition for the functioning of representative democracy. They represent their members across policy venues and facilitate citizens’ participation in politics, beyond the electoral process. The problem is interest groups involvement in politics is far from equal competition, and the policy outcomes that result from interest groups’ mobilization tend to reflect the interests of the elites. Inequality exists because the creation and survival of an interest group is highly problematic, and because governance systems are systematically biased in favor of a privileged small set of interest groups. The consolidation of multilevel systems of governance and the social media transforms interest groups’ capacity to form, and maintain their own survival as representatives of citizen’s preferences and promoters of citizens direct engagement in politics. However, the democratic deficit associated with interest systems of intermediation persists, despite the efforts of policy actors to foster more equal, transparent involvement of interest groups in politics.
Laura Chaqués Bonafont, Christoffer Green-Pedersen and Henrik Bech Seeberg
Studies of agenda-setting have a long tradition within public policy research. In recent years, this research tradition has gained considerable momentum not least due to the establishment of the Comparative Agendas Project (CAP) data set and the research based on the data. The data set is built on the foundational work by Baumgartner and Jones and their data set on the US political system. The growth of the CAP data set has generated a flourishing literature which has moved the policy agenda-setting tradition forward in several ways. From a methodological perspective, a number of tools have been developed to better analyse and work with the agenda-setting data. This has generated a much better understanding of general aspects of agenda-setting dynamics. Among the methodological innovations, the comparative aspect of the data has been the foundation of a growing body of comparative research on policy agenda-setting. Thus, agenda-setting processes around policy issues are in many ways better understood than just ten years ago. However, many aspects are also poorly understood and two are worth highlighting. One is that though policy problems are widely recognized to be crucial for agenda-setting process, their exact role is still poorly understood. Further, the link between agenda-setting and actual policy decision is an aspect which has not received much attention in this recent literature.