From Maastricht to Brexit by Richard Bellamy and Dario Castiglione

Public Opinion, Social Movements, Interest Groups, Political Parties and Policy Change

Interest Groups
Political Parties
Public Policy
Social Movements
Section Number
Section Chair
Laura Morales
Sciences Po Paris
Section Co-Chair
Christine Arnold
Maastricht Universiteit

Studies on the drivers of political responsiveness of representatives and the resulting political change are scattered across several fields of study in Political Science. On the one hand, public opinion scholars focus on the reciprocal link between opinion or the general ‘public mood’ and policy outcomes. A large and increasing body of scholarship focuses on the extent to which representatives pay attention to the public’s policy preferences and the responsiveness of the public to the policies. In this scholarly tradition, the approach has been to measure public opinion through indicators that tap in the beliefs and preferences expressed in surveys. Often as a measure of policy change, scholars examine the changing levels of legislative output or budget outlays. This approach, however, does not account for the fact that public opinion (or the opinions of the public) is also expressed through other means.

On the other end, social movement scholars have for a long time been interested in the impact that contentious politics of various kinds have on political and policy change. Collective action – e.g. organizing petitions, demonstrations and street occupations – is another way for the public to voice their views, demands, and policy preferences. Studies of social movement outcomes, particularly the ones interested in the effect of mobilization on public policy, take collective action seriously but by focusing on the mobilization of the public around specific issues, these studies often neglect the role of aggregate public opinion.

In between these two, probably most disparate, scholarly traditions, additional approaches have emerged from the policy studies and interest groups field. One focuses particularly on the process of agenda-setting and on how issue attention affects policy (change). Here the focus has also been on agenda representation that is the link of the policy priorities of the public and the policy priorities of government agendas. The other focuses particularly on the role of interest groups and advocacy in the political process and on how these bring about or prevent policy and political change.

Finally, party politics scholars have also studied how competing pressures from different sectors of the public – particularly, the voters and the social organizations with which parties maintain closer links – shape party policy formulation. One approach here has been to study the extent of issue congruence between voters and party positions.

All in all, we find that scholars from different fields of Political Science are looking at the same phenomena with different lenses and from different theoretical, analytical and methodological perspectives. We believe that this diversity of approaches is to be celebrated, but also that more could be done to better integrate these multiple approaches into future research. Accordingly, this section aims at providing a space of scholarly exchange that will contribute to bridge the gaps between these different areas of research that have tended to ignore each other.

The section follows on a very successful workshop organized at the University of Leicester in June 2014 with the support of the European Research Council-funded project ResponsiveGov and the members of MOVEOUT, the international network on the study of social movement outcomes (see We are seeking to reach out to a larger community of scholars working on topics of public opinion and responsiveness, policy congruence, political parties, social movements, policy studies, and interest and advocacy groups.

The Standing Groups on Political Parties and Interest Groups support this Section proposal.

Panel List

P001(How) Do Elections and Parties Matter? Studying the Conditional Effect of Elections and Parties on Political and Policy Change View Panel Details
P011Agenda Representation: How Government Agendas Respond to Public Opinion and Pressures from Social Movements and Interest Groups View Panel Details
P122Changing Parties and Party Systems View Panel Details
P177How are Party Organizations Responding to Social Change? View Panel Details
P194Intra-Party Organization, Representation and Responsiveness View Panel Details
P253Party-Movements Interactions and the Policy Process: Beyond the Movements vs. Parties Dichotomy View Panel Details
P308Responding to Competing Messages: How Parties and Elected Officials React to Multiple Pressures from the Public View Panel Details
P318The Contentious Politics of Hydraulic Fracturing – Elite Strategies, Advocacy Coalitions and Indigenous Movements in Comparative Perspective View Panel Details
P410Winning the Public Opinion 'Battle': How Movements and Parties Shape Citizens’ Participation and Attitudes View Panel Details
Share this page

"Politics determines the process of "who gets what, when, and how"" - Harold Lasswell

Back to top