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Action and Reaction in Lobbying: Comparing Issues, Interests and Countries

Comparative Politics
Interest Groups
Agenda-Setting
Joost Berkhout
University of Amsterdam
Joost Berkhout
University of Amsterdam
Patrick Bernhagen
Universität Stuttgart
Adam Chalmers
Kings College London
Beth Leech
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Amy McKay
University of Exeter

Abstract

Who leads the dance between interest groups and policy makers? In this paper we argue that issue-dynamics are critical: interest groups push their ‘own’ issues when public opinion is on their side and react to items on the government agenda when incumbent parties are supportive. We use data from interviews with interest group representatives at around 400 organizations in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands to identify the conditions under which organized interests shape the policy agenda, or, alternatively, react to what government is already doing. Our study of around 2,000 issues identified by our interviewees shows that groups tend to push issues whose salience is low, where public opinion is supportive and the incumbent government parties are unsupportive. Moreover, business groups are less likely to work on issues that are currently off the agenda. Contrary to conventional wisdom, agenda-setting by organized interests is more common in Germany and the Netherlands compared to the United States and the United Kingdom.