Louder chorus–same accent: The representation of interests in pressure politics, 1991-2011


Citizens in American democracy have multiple channels for the expression of political voice, among them, organized interest politics in Washington. But the advocacy on behalf of citizen preferences and needs in national politics is neither universal nor representative. That is, not all voices speak equally loudly in organized interest politics and systematic processes operate to influence which voices are amplified by a megaphone and which ones speak in a whisper. The result is pronounced inequalities of political voice. Drawing upon the Washington Representatives Study, an extensive data base covering the period from 1991 to 2011, we ascertain how the Washington pressure system has grown and assess any changes in the balance among the kinds of interests represented and the resources they devote to influencing policy. We find more of the same: more organizations and more dollars invested in lobbying but little change in the kinds of interests represented. For all the diversity among the thousands of organizations active in Washington, policymakers hear much more from advocates for narrow interests than from supporters of broad public interests and much more from those with deep pockets than from the less affluent. A half century ago, E.E. Schattschneider observed famously that “the flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with an upper-class accent.” The chorus now has more members, and they sing more loudly, but the accent is unchanged.

Brookings Institution, Issues in Governance Studies Number 65.
Philip Edward Jones
Philip Edward Jones
Associate Professor of Political Science