The issue of diversity versus bias in interest group systems is classic. Ever since Schattschneider (1960/1975) questioned the pluralist assumption of a relatively well-balanced group system, scholars have investigated different groups' success in mobilization and political influence (Baumgartner and Leech 1998, 100-119; Jordan et al. 2012; Lowery and Gray 2004; Schlozman, Verba, and Brady 2012; Walker 1991; Wonka et al. 2010). One challenge is that there is no way to know what unbiased group presence would look like. Some groups may be compared with relevant societal groups (see Schlozman 1984), but often, it is not feasible to establish how their “natural” presence in the group system might look (Baumgartner and Leech 1998, 93). It is, however, possible to compare the share of different types of groups in politically mobilized interest group populations with the level of political access obtained (Danielian and Page 1994) and to establish the relative success of groups across different political venues (Halpin, Baxter, and McLeod 2012).
In addressing diversity in political voice, it is essential to capture the nature of the interests being represented in political arenas (Schlozman 2012, 30). Because our main purpose is to explain and understand the representation of citizens through the channel of interest groups, we define interest groups as membership organizations working to obtain political influence. Group members may be individuals, firms, governmental institutions, or other interest groups (Jordan, Halpin, and Maloney 2004, 200). Within the set of groups delimited by this definition, we find groups representing very different types of members or causes: Some organize well-defined sectional groups, for example, related to the labor market, whereas others work for broader causes like animal protection or human rights. A division into the following group categories speaks to the main themes of the literature: (1) business groups, (2) trade unions, (3) institutional groups, (4) identity groups, (5) public interest groups, (6) professional groups, and (7) leisure groups.
A recurrent theme in the interest group literature is the overrepresentation of business interests. From Schattschneider's (1960/1975/1960/1975, 34–35) ascertainment that the “heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent” to more recent accounts, a main concern has been to determine the relative (over)weight of business interests in the pressure group system (Danielian and Page 1994; Schlozman, Verba, and Brady 2012). In many respects, trade unions constitute the immediate counterpart to business, and in corporatist settings, these group types are traditionally the quintessential participants (Molina and Rhodes 2002; Schmitter 1974). Institutional providers of public or semipublic services—that is, associations of local authorities, schools, museums, and other types of institutions—have also played a prominent role in corporatist arrangements. Another crucial concern is the political representation of groups and causes not related to the market and/or vocations, professions, or institutions. Berry (1999) argues that such citizen groups in U.S. politics have been on the rise, whereas others are more skeptical about the role played by representatives of public interests and disadvantaged constituencies (Schlozman 2012, 34). The broad class of citizen groups, however, masks the important distinction between organizations that seek public goods and those seeking benefits for limited constituencies such as patients or minority groups (Dunleavy 1991; Schlozman 2012, 31). Consequently, our category of “identity groups” covers sectional groups (e.g., for patients, minorities, the elderly, students, and other nonlabor market groups). “Public interest groups,” meanwhile—consistent with Berry's (1977, 7) definition in his early work —encompasses groups seeking collective goods, the achievement of which would not selectively or materially benefit their members or activists. These latter groups have been argued to face particularly harsh obstacles in organizing for political influence and, in effect, to be underrepresented in political arenas (Olson 1971; Schlozman, Verba, and Brady 2012, 277).
We also include a category of “professional groups,” representing specific societies of doctors, and one of “leisure groups,” including groups organized in relation to interests, such as sports or religious and spiritual interests. These groups are numerous, but their political participation is often rather peripheral because their main purposes are nonpolitical (Jordan, Halpin, and Maloney 2004).
Political Arenas: Bureaucracy, Parliament, and Media
Interest groups participate in various stages of political processes, from formation of the political agenda to the eventual implementation of policies (Bernhagen and Trani 2012, 50). Throughout these processes, they seek access to administrative and parliamentary decision makers and reporters (Baumgartner and Leech 1998; Beyers 2004; Eising 2007a). Although Congress has been at the center of much U.S. research, European scholars have traditionally been preoccupied with group interaction with bureaucrats (Baumgartner et al. 2009; Rhodes and Marsh 1992). In reaction to the increasing political importance of the media, this arena has attracted increased attention (Bernhagen and Trani 2012; Binderkrantz 2012; Danielian and Page 1994; Kepplinger 2002; Kollman 1998).
Ultimately, interest groups are relevant insofar as they channel interests into political influence. A crucial step in gaining influence is accessing political arenas. Access signifies political importance and eventually a higher likelihood of political influence (Eising 2007b, 387). As argued by Hansen (1991, 11), “the policy views of advocates with access receive consistent, serious consideration.” Groups that do not take part in the policy process are less likely to successfully defend their interests, as acutely captured in the Washington adage, “If you're not at the table, you're on the menu” (Schlozman, Verba, and Brady 2012, 309). Access does not necessarily imply influence, but it constitutes a necessary step toward influencing the political agenda or decisions (Bouwen 2004; Eising 2007b). Contacts with members of parliament, access to relevant bureaucrats, and presence in the media are relevant measures of interest group positions in these arenas, although other mechanisms may exist to counteract the influence of organized interests (Denzau and Munger 1986).
Although this article is the first to systematically compare group access across arenas, there is some evidence that different arenas provide different types of groups with political opportunities. First, several studies have analyzed the strategies employed by interest groups and demonstrated variation in the extent to which different types of groups target political arenas (Beyers 2004; Binderkrantz 2005; Kriesi, Tresch, and Jochum 2007). Second, a few studies have found different patterns of representation in different arenas (Halpin, Baxter, and McLeod 2012, 133; Salisbury 1984b, 74–75). A common theme is that publicly visible arenas are more attractive to groups pursuing broad political goals, whereas business interests are more likely found in less visible arenas. In the next section, we link this to an exchange model of arena access.
An Exchange Model of Arena Access
Exchange theory constitutes a classic perspective within the interest group field and has been particularly prominent in accounts of group formation (Salisbury 1969). Group access to political arenas is seen as the result of an exchange of resources between interest groups and arena gatekeepers—politicians, bureaucrats, and reporters. Resource dependencies matter because neither state institutions nor interest groups can autonomously pursue their political goals. The interaction of groups and gatekeepers can be seen as a series of interorganizational exchanges based on interdependent relationships (Beyers and Kerremans 2007; Bouwen 2004, 339; Braun 2012; Pfeffer and Salancik 1978). Groups supply decision makers with relevant resources and gain access and eventually political influence in return (Bouwen 2004; Eising 2007b; Hall and Deardorff 2006; Hansen 1991; Jordan and Maloney 1997; Öberg et al. 2011; Woll 2007). Similarly, the media literature has described the relationship between reporters and their sources as an exchange of resources in which newsworthiness is continuously negotiated (Cook 1998).
These studies focus on the external constraints to arena access. However, there is another, often neglected, side to the exchange. Groups may have different preferences when seeking access (Pralle 2003, 240). To some groups, it is very important to “go public” in order to appeal to (potential) members. Other groups may prefer to work behind closed doors in order to strike deals on policy concessions. Following this reasoning, our argument has two elements: First, different types of groups possess resources of different composition. Some groups control insider resources, particularly relevant for inclusion in decision-making processes, whereas other groups score higher on outsider resources, which matter more in public arenas. Second, interest groups pursue diverse political goals, which affect the priority given to different arenas. Groups emphasizing agenda setting are more attracted to the media arena, whereas groups interested in affecting policy decisions are more likely to approach bureaucrats. In effect, group representation is expected to vary across political arenas.
In explaining group access to decision makers, many different resources have been cited as important. An influential strand of U.S. scholarship emphasizes financial resources (Austen-Smith and Wright 1994; Hall and Wayman 1990). Other contributions have addressed intangible resources, such as the provision of expertise, political intelligence, and propaganda (Hall and Deardorff 2006, 72–74; Hansen 1991, 3–5). Similarly, European contributions have pointed to the dependence of government institutions on groups for information, consent, and active cooperation (Eising 2007b, 385). Corporatist and network scholars have described group access as an effect of groups' ability to control their membership and contribute to the policy process by moderating public opinion (Öberg et al. 2011, 367-368; Rhodes and Marsh 1992; Rokkan 1966). In sum, interest groups may possess insider resources consisting of information and expertise of relevance to the policy process on the one hand, and external control (e.g., of members) of relevance to the political fate of policies on the other. These resources are likely to affect the relative access of groups to decision makers.
Insider resources can be contrasted to outsider resources, which are of particular relevance for group access to public arenas. Kollman (1998) emphasized the ability of groups to mobilize citizens in collective action efforts. Groups also differ in the extent to which their causes have broad public appeal. Groups pursuing issues of relevance only to narrow societal sectors have fewer outsider resources—in the form of the ability to make claims of broad appeal—than groups focusing on issues of broad societal relevance (Binderkrantz and Krøyer 2012). Groups also differ in the extent to which their causes correspond with news values. Wolfsfeld (2011, 72) argues that the media are, above all, dedicated to telling good stories, implying, for example, that stories involving drama and conflict are more likely to appear in the news. News value theory also emphasizes personalization as a factor affecting the likelihood that stories are reported by the media (Galtung and Ruge 1965). Groups able to provide reporters with personalized stories therefore have a competitive advantage. Accordingly, interest groups may possess outsider resources because of their representation of causes with broad public appeal or their ability to provide reporters with stories of news value. These resources are likely to affect the relative access of groups to public arenas.
The second element in our argument is the political goals of groups. Previous accounts of resource exchange assume that interest groups interact with decision makers in order to gain influence (Bouwen 2004; Hall and Deardorff 2006; Hansen 1991; Öberg et al. 2011). A more nuanced view of group goals includes attempts at agenda setting alongside influence on policy decisions (Bernhagen and Trani 2012, 50). Interest groups are expected to include different political goals in their portfolios, but the balance between goals is likely to vary. Groups focusing relatively more on agenda setting are therefore expected to seek access to public arenas to a higher degree than groups focusing relatively more on affecting decision making. These latter groups are more likely to seek access to decision-making processes.
In relating these speculations to group types, we expect sectional groups (e.g., trade unions, business groups, and institutional groups) to be relatively more concerned with affecting policy decisions of interest to their membership. Public interest groups are likely to give higher priority to agenda setting. These groups generally work for broad causes and are interested in communicating with rather diffuse sets of members and potential members. Here, the crucial goal of group maintenance therefore affects the political work of groups (Berkhout 2013; Dunleavy 1991; Gais and Walker 1991, 105; Lowery 2007).
Public interest groups are expected to be well equipped with outsider resources because they work for broad causes and may raise issues with public appeal. Many identity groups also possess outsider resources because of their representation of groups, such as the elderly or patients, which enables them to make use of personalized angles. Insider resources, meanwhile, are predominantly found among groups representing interests related to the private or public sector (i.e., business groups, trade unions, institutional groups, and professional groups). They possess important information and expertise and represent constituencies that are important to societal production (Rokkan 1966).
Likelihood of arena access increases when the goals and resources of a group fit the needs of the relevant arena. Bureaucracy constitutes the predominant insider arena, where political decisions are prepared and implemented and important information is exchanged. To prepare technically implementable and politically feasible decisions, bureaucrats need technical information and information about the political support of core actors. This makes for a match between bureaucracy and business groups, trade unions, institutional groups, and professional groups. These groups possess relevant resources and pursue goals related to specific decisions, which draws them toward bureaucrats.
A similar match is found for public interest groups and the media. The media is the most public arena and reporters are interested in news stories with broad appeal and/or a personalized angle. Public interest groups are, on balance, expected to be more focused on agenda setting, and their causes have broad appeal. Many identity groups also possess resources—in terms of delivering personalized stories—that are relevant for public arenas. Although identity groups are expected to be more interested in affecting decisions of relevance for their membership than in public agendas, drawing them toward decision-making arenas, their lack of insider resources may imply that they are better represented in the media than in the bureaucracy.
Parliament is a more ambiguous arena as it plays an important role in decision making and as a more open forum for agenda setting (Andeweg and Nijzink 1995). Legislators may value both insider and outsider resources. Members of parliament (MPs) actively involved in devising policy proposals (Eising 2007b, 385) may value the expertise of insider groups, whereas colleagues who seek to draw public attention to themselves and their political goals may be more interested in giving access to groups with outsider resources. Moreover, the role of parliament varies between presidential and parliamentary systems and within both systems. The Danish parliament is involved in agenda setting and specific decision making, but compared to other parliaments, it is relatively powerful in agenda control and less so in drafting legislation (Binderkrantz 2003; Mattson and Strøm 1995, 298–300). We therefore expect public interest groups and identity groups to be relatively well represented in parliament, whereas groups with insider resources are likely to prioritize contact to bureaucrats.
In sum, we argue that the access of interest groups is a product of the match between the preferences and resources of groups, and the demand for resources on the part of the gatekeepers in different political arenas. Therefore, we expect unions, business groups, institutional groups, and professional groups to be best represented in the administrative arena, whereas identity groups and public interest groups are more likely to be found in the media and parliament. Leisure groups have neither insider nor outsider resources. Their political involvement is typically rather sporadic, and we expect them to be relatively poorly represented across all arenas.
A Competing Perspective: Cumulative Arena Access in Arena Access
The exchange model posits that the resource exchange between groups and gatekeepers varies across arenas. A competing theoretical perspective emphasizes factors that lead to cumulativity in group access across media, parliament, and the bureaucracy.
Importantly, resource differentials may matter for access to all arenas. We know from previous research that group resources, such as finances and staff dedicated to monitoring and lobbying, affect the political role of interest groups (Binderkrantz 2005; Eising 2007b). These resources may be relevant across arenas as they affect the ability of groups to engage professionally with gatekeepers. All gatekeepers—politicians, bureaucrats, and reporters—are busy people dealing with crowded and volatile political agendas. They are likely to prefer clear and constructive communication that suits the political reality of the moment. Group finances and staff resources serve as a proxy for this professionalization. Lobbying efficiency is likely to be the product of a group's financial resources and, especially, the amount of money invested in a professional secretariat. Therefore, in contrast to the exchange perspective, it is expected that group finances and staff will increase group access across all political arenas.
Access to one arena may also spill over to other arenas, leading to cumulative access. Bennett (1990) argues that reporters “index” the range of voices and viewpoints in the news according to the range of views expressed in mainstream government debate. Cook (1998) discusses how public officials are seen as more reliable sources than other actors. The effect is a systematic bias in actor appearance favoring public officials (Bennett 1990, 106; Thrall 2006, 408). By the same reasoning, interest groups with privileged access to decision makers possess inherent news value because of their access to public decision making. The groups that dominate the inside game of politics will, according to this reasoning, also be predominant in the media arena (Thrall 2006, 408). Similar spillover effects may be present, from media to parliament, where media attention may be instrumental in attracting the attention of politicians (Berkhout 2013, 228), and from parliament to the bureaucracy, where bureaucrats may anticipate the reactions of legislators and provide access to groups that enjoy legislative attention.
The empirical analysis juxtaposes these two theoretical perspectives. On the one hand, we expect different patterns of group access in different arenas. Business groups, trade unions, professional groups, and institutional groups are expected to be relatively well represented in the administrative arena and public interest groups and identity groups to fare relatively better in the media and parliament. At the same time, general financial and personnel resources are relevant in all arenas, and spillover effects may lead to convergence in arena access.