Report: Special Interests More Influential Than Public Opinion

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Breanna Deutsch Contributor
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New research supports what many Americans already believe – lawmakers are influenced more by special interest groups than their constituents.

Matt Grossmann, author of the new book, “Artists of the Possible: Governing Networks and American Policy Change Since 1945,” looks at the movers and shakers behind 790 significant domestic policy changes since the 1940s.

Grossman, an assistant professor of political science at Michigan State University, found that the public plays a surprisingly limited role in legislative outcomes. In fact, he did not find any domestic policy issue area where the public opinion was the leading force in policy results.

Instead, interest and advocacy groups played a more powerful role in all issue areas.

Since 1945, says Grossman, the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the ACLU have had more influence over policy than any other interest groups.

The issue areas where interest and advocacy groups had the most sway were civil rights and liberties, the environment, housing and development, and labor and immigration.

Even though there are more business groups and they employ more lobbyists, businesses have enjoyed far less political persuasion over the past 70 years.

According to Grossmann’s research, the only policy areas where they have had more of an active role in shaping legislation are energy, technology and macroeonomics, and finance and commerce.

Grossmann notes that this is partially due to the tendency for businesses to oppose legislation rather than encourage new laws.

In 1964, 64 percent of Americans believed that the government was run for the benefit of the public. But in 2008, only 29 percent of Americans believed that policymakers were working in their interest.

The majority of Americans in 2008, 69 percent, thought lawmakers passed legislation that benefited only a few big interests.

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Breanna Deutsch