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Still the Weapons of the Weak? Media Lobbying Tactics and Interest Groups’ Access in Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands

Interest Groups
Media
Representation
Lobbying
Andrea Pritoni
Scuola Normale Superiore
Andrea Pritoni
Scuola Normale Superiore
Francesca Feo
Scuola Normale Superiore
Angelo Vito Panaro
Scuola Normale Superiore

Abstract

The theme of interest groups equal representation, and, in turn, their positive or negative contribution to democratic quality, is a real ‘classic’ in interest group research. More precisely, whether interest organizations are effective channels through which citizens transmit demands and requests to decision makers, in so improving the congruence between societal needs, on a side, and policymaking, on the other, depends – among other things – on the level of bias characterizing the institutional access that different groups enjoy. Generally, the mainstream theories used to explain interest groups’ access lie on resource exchange models, whereas much less studied is the link between lobbying tactics and institutional access. On this, the literature is relatively underdeveloped, but speaks with one voice: outside lobbying tactics represent the so-called ‘weapons of the weak’. However, structural changes in the political arena might have put under question this traditional explanation of interest groups’ access. In particular, the consequences of the mediatization of politics, namely the increased involvement of public opinion in decision-making, had an impact on interest groups' strategic choices. In a political context where fewer policy processes can be entirely conducted outside the purview of public scrutiny, the “allure” of media(tized) lobbying tactics for interest groups should increase, as well as the impact of these very same tactics on interest groups’ access to institutional venues. We test this framework on a sample of around 1,000 interest groups in three Western European countries: Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. The empirical findings confirm our theoretical expectations: media lobbying tactics are not ‘weapons of the weak’ anymore. This leave space for reflections on the role of public opinion in shaping policy outcomes, both directly, by pushing policymakers to be responsive to be re-elected, and indirectly, by forcing interest groups ‘to fight’ publicly much more than in the past.