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Public Opinion and the Survival of Advocacy Groups

Civil Society
Elites
Interest Groups
Lobbying
NGOs
Political Activism
Public Opinion
Arlo Poletti
Università degli Studi di Trento
Marcel Hanegraaff
University of Amsterdam
Arlo Poletti
Università degli Studi di Trento

Abstract

The causal links connecting advocacy groups, public opinion and decision-makers have attracted growing scholarly attention in recent years. One group of studies investigates the causal channels that go from advocacy groups to public opinion, showing that advocacy groups can both effectively operate as transmission belts between the public and decision-makers (De Bruycker 2017; Giger and Klüver 2015; Rasmussen et al. 2014) and shape public opinion (Andsager 2000; Dür 2015; Dür and Mateo 2015). Other studies have looked into the opposite causal relationship, highlighting how public support can significantly affect advocacy success (Rasmussen et al. 2017). We seek to contribute to this latter debate by addressing a perhaps even more fundamental question: does public opinion affect the very existence of advocacy groups? Our study shows that indeed public opinion can not only affect whether advocacy groups are successful but also whether they can survive as organizations active in a given population of advocacy groups. More specifically, we rely on data from the Comparative Interest Groups Survey, which includes over 4,000 interests group respondents across six countries in the EU, as well as groups working at the EU level. We show that public opinion is a critical factor influencing how advocacy groups estimate their chances of survival as organizations. In addition, we show how this relationship varies across types of substantive interests (business and NGOs), and policy fields. Our findings have important implications for the debate on how public opinion affects advocacy groups’ potential to play an active role within a democratic political system.