Citizen Lobbyists

Citizen Lobbyists: Local Efforts to Influence Public Policy

Brian E. Adams
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Temple University Press
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  • Book Info
    Citizen Lobbyists
    Book Description:

    Citizen Lobbyistsexplores how U.S. citizens participate in local government. Although many commentators have lamented the apathy of the American citizenry, Brian Adams focuses on what makes ordinary Americans become involved in and attempt to influence public policy issues that concern them. It connects theory and empirical data in a new and revealing way, providing both a thorough review of the relevant scholarly discussions and a detailed case study of citizen engagement in the politics of Santa Ana, a mid-sized Southern California city. After interviewing more than fifty residents, Adams found that they can be best described as "lobbyists" who identify issues of personal importance and then lobby their local government bodies. Through his research, he discovered that public meetings and social networks emerged as essential elements in citizens' efforts to influence local policy. By testing theory against reality, this work fills a void in our understanding of the actual participatory practices of "civically engaged" citizens.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-571-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. PART I. Introduction
    • 1 Citizen Lobbyists
      (pp. 3-20)

      Citizens’ political activity in local government can take three basic forms. First, they can partake in elections, voting for local officials, volunteering for political campaigns, giving campaign contributions, or running for office themselves. Second, citizens can engage the policy-making process directly, prodding officials to take desired policy actions. Toward this end, citizens can attend city council meetings, organize protests, circulate petitions, or engage in a host of other activities. Third, citizens can bypass local governments altogether and address community issues through civic organizations, working with their fellow citizens to make positive improvements to their communities outside of the formal channels...

    • 2 Citizen Efforts to Influence Local Policy: A Review of the Literature
      (pp. 21-42)

      When thinking about citizen efforts to influence local policy, there are four general areas of inquiry:

      1. Players: Who participates?

      2. Objects: What policies do citizens try to influence with their participation?

      3. Activities: What tactics and strategies do citizens employ when trying to influence local policy?

      4. Effectiveness: Is citizen participation effective?

      These questions could be asked of all forms of political participation, but in this chapter I focus specifically on nonelectoral participation on the local level. By not analyzing the literature on electoral activity and participation in national policy making, we can concentrate on the unique nature of local participation and on...

  5. PART II. Participation Across Local Policies
    • 3 Policy Characteristics and Patterns of Participation
      (pp. 45-74)

      Why do some local issues generate significant participation while other do not? Citizens—with limited time to devote to politics and an endless array of issues—need to decide on which issues they will participate. Why do they choose to participate on issue A and not issue B? My goal in part II is to understand the variation in participation across local public policies and to analyze the choices that citizens make when they decide to participate in local affairs.

      Typically, questions concerning participation patterns are cast in terms of personal versus community interests: do citizens participate on policies that...

    • 4 Policy Entrepreneurs and the Opportunity to Participate
      (pp. 75-91)

      In Chapter 3, we explored the possibility that policy characteristics influence patterns of participation, that certain types of policies are more likely to generate participation than others. Another influence on participation patterns could be participants themselves: Some policies could generate a lot of participation because there are concerned citizens who promote it. The hypothesis is as follows: policy A will receive more participation than policy B because it was pushed by a citizen (or group of citizens) who was able to get it on the public’s agenda and mobilize other participants. In this scenario, the characteristics of the policy itself...

    • 5 Local Newspapers and Participation
      (pp. 92-108)

      In this chapter, I explore newspapers’ role in influencing participation patterns. Do newspapers increase citizen activity on the issues they cover? Did citizens participate on issue A rather than issue B because the former received extensive coverage while the latter did not?

      We can delineate two plausible arguments concerning the influence of newspapers on participation patterns.¹ First, for many people, newspapers are the primary source of information on local politics: television gives short shrift to local affairs, and the sparse coverage it does provide is usually sensationalized. Newspapers, on the other hand, sometimes provide information to citizens that allows them...

    • 6 Social Conflict and Participation
      (pp. 109-130)

      One possible explanation for participation patterns is that they reflect larger social conflicts. The policy issues that represent major social cleavages—the fault lines in society—are the ones that will generate the most participation, with citizens participating on those issues that serve as proxies for underlying conflicts. If this argument is true we should see the greatest level of participation in those issues that are representative of, or have implications for, major social conflicts.

      In participant interviews, two social conflicts repeatedly emerged. The first is a debate over the appropriate function and organization of the city. What purpose do...

  6. PART III. How Citizens Participate
    • 7 Participatory Strategies and Tactics
      (pp. 133-157)

      In this chapter and the following two, I explore how citizens attempted to accomplish their political goals through participation. Up until this point, I have examined why citizens participate on one issue rather than another. Here, I set aside that question in favor of looking more closely at the ways citizens participated. Citizens have many options when deciding how to influence policy, and the choices they make can illuminate the nature of citizens’ engagement with the local policy-making process. This analysis shows how the manner in which they participate resembles that of lobbyists.

      At the beginning of the participant interviews,...

    • 8 Public Meetings and the Democratic Process
      (pp. 158-180)

      Most local governments hold regularly scheduled meetings to discuss and decide public issues. Opportunities for citizens to voice their opinions are usually part of these meetings. Public input could either take the form of comments on specific issues before the governmental body or it could be general comments on any issue citizens care about. In either case, citizens are given a specified period of time (typically two to three minutes) to state their opinions and are usually prohibited from engaging other citizens or officials in dialogue.

      As we saw in Chapter 7, attending public meetings is a common form of...

    • 9 The Political Value of Social Networks
      (pp. 181-200)

      Scholars who study the resources used by citizens participating in politics have found that three are critically important: time, money, and civic skills (e.g., Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995, 270–72). In this chapter, I propose to add a fourth resource to that list: social networks. Although scholars recognize the importance of networks for mobilization and recruitment, few have seen networks as a political resource that citizens can draw upon once they have decided to participate. Like money in the bank or spare time, social networks are a resource that citizens can use to accomplish political objectives.

      I argue that...

  7. PART IV. Conclusion
    • 10 The Practice of Local Democracy
      (pp. 203-212)

      The central goal of this book is to explore how citizens engage the local policy-making process: what is the manner in which citizens attempt to influence local policy? In Santa Ana, citizens attempted to influence policy in the same way as lobbyists: they identify political goals, develop strategies, and engage in a variety of political activities to accomplish their goals. They did not approach the policy-making process as either community problem solvers or ideologues, preferring instead to identify specific issues of direct concern to them. They also were not just pawns of some interest group or elected official; although connected...

  8. Appendix: Policies Discussed by Interview Respondents
    (pp. 213-214)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 215-218)
  10. References
    (pp. 219-228)
  11. Index
    (pp. 229-236)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-237)