The Vulnerability Thesis

The Vulnerability Thesis: Interest Group Influence and Institutional Design

Lorelei K. Moosbrugger
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vm6mz
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Vulnerability Thesis
    Book Description:

    Where politics is dominated by two large parties, as in the United States, politicians should be relatively immune to the influence of small groups. Yet narrow interest groups often win private benefits against majority preferences and at great public expense. Why? The "vulnerability thesis" is that the electoral system is largely to blame, making politicians in two-party systems more vulnerable to interest group demands than politicians in multiparty systems. Political scientist Lorelei Moosbrugger ranks democracies on a continuum of political vulnerability and tests the thesis by examining agrochemical policy in Austria, Britain, Germany, Sweden, and the European Union.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16758-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  4. 1 INTEREST GROUP INFLUENCE AND INSTITUTIONAL DESIGN
    (pp. 1-20)

    Free societies cannot prevent interest groups from making demands on government, nor would they want to. Interest groups are a natural product of political freedom and are as essential as voters to democracy. Interest groups also perform important representative functions in democratic polities. They provide voters a medium for civic engagement, they facilitate the articulation of intense societal preferences, and they provide policy makers with a breadth and depth of expertise invaluable to effective policy making. The question is, as Loomis and Cigler suggest, can political responsiveness to the specific preferences of organized groups foreclose government responsiveness to the collective...

  5. 2 THE VULNERABILITY THESIS
    (pp. 21-36)

    Immergut’s question highlights the fundamental problem with veto-based models of interest group influence, i.e., the assumption that interest groups influence politicians via the same pathways used by voters. The reality, as we all know, is quite different. The medical profession can influence policy makers precisely because it is an organized interest group—not just a small group of voters.

    The defining difference between interest groups and voters is that interest groups are organized to influence policy choice; voters are not.¹ The political activity of most voters is limited to choosing representatives from among competing parties.² In contrast, organized groups are...

  6. 3 EVIDENCE FROM THE ENVIRONMENT
    (pp. 37-62)

    The previous chapter introduced a general theory of interest group influence in democratic countries. The vulnerability thesis anticipates that the structure of political institutions will generate cross-national differences in the vulnerability of policy makers to interest group demands, and therein governments’ ability to provide public goods that impose concentrated costs on organized groups. This chapter identifies the conditions necessary to test the model and begins to explore the evidence for anticipated differences.

    The investigation proceeds in two steps. The first section identifies countries suitable for comparative analysis and an appropriate test case for study. Case selection is essential to research...

  7. 4 THE EUROPEAN UNION
    (pp. 63-75)

    Nowhere are the environmental impacts of agriculture as politically salient as they are in the European Union (EU). Policy makers have long recognized that the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has had negative impacts on the environment, especially on water quality. The key issue is that EU price supports, which have been the main instrument of the CAP, generate nearly irresistible incentives for farmers to overuse chemical inputs to ensure maximum yields from scheduled crops.¹ The excessive use of agrochemicals pollutes surface water and leaches through the soil into groundwater. The resulting concerns about water quality led to multiple EU...

  8. 5 THE UNITED KINGDOM: MINORITY INFLUENCE AND MAJORITY RULE
    (pp. 76-93)

    Models that link minority influence to political institutions that fragment political power suggest that interest groups should be the least powerful where single-member district (SMD) elections are combined with parliamentary government and a unitary organization of the state. The vulnerability thesis predicts the opposite; it anticipates that policy makers in these systems will be the most vulnerable to the demands of small groups. The United Kingdom was selected for the first case study because the British political system is defined by this particular institutional constellation and is therefore a critical case.

    SMD elections empower three significant parties in Britain: the...

  9. 6 GERMANY: THE POLITICS OF PAYING THE POLLUTER
    (pp. 94-109)

    Germany was selected for in-depth study for three reasons. First, as a longtime member of the European Union, Germany was, like Britain, subject to the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) during the study period.¹ Second, Germany’s federal system provides variance on state organization, one of the independent variables argued to affect policy choice, especially in policy domains where interest groups are geographically concentrated. Third, and most important, Germany’s mixed-member electoral system generates coalition governments typically containing one large party that shares power with a small party.² In contrast to the single-member district (SMD) elections that produced vulnerable single-party majority governments in...

  10. 7 AUSTRIA: POLITICAL COVER AND POLICY CHOICE
    (pp. 110-120)

    While significantly smaller than Germany, neighboring Austria shares a similar geography and culture, both interest group systems are corporatist, and both are federal. Those similarities serve as important natural controls that facilitate comparison on other aspects, the most important of which derive from the electoral system. Austria is an important case study because its use of pure proportional representation (PR) generated single-party majority government, a bare majority coalition government, and grand coalition government during the study period. The varied composition of Austrian governments between 1970 and 1995 provides an opportunity to examine the policies of different types of governments acting...

  11. 8 SWEDEN: MINORITY REPRESENTATION AND THE MAJORITY INTEREST
    (pp. 121-137)

    Like Austria, Sweden was not a member of the European Union during the study period. Also like Austria, Sweden is ranked among the most corporatist countries in the developed world,¹ and Swedish politicians are also empowered via a list-PR electoral system, the system argued to be most likely to limit interest group power. Unlike Austria, however, the organization of the Swedish state is unitary; Swedish governments do not share power with lower-level governments and should therefore be less vulnerable to regional interest group pressure. In fact, the institutional combination that defines the Swedish political system locates it at the far...

  12. 9 INSTITUTIONAL DESIGN AND THE QUALITY OF DEMOCRACY
    (pp. 138-150)

    Diamond argued that one of the great paradoxes of democracy is that the political institutions that facilitate representation simultaneously inhibit governability. The “universal tension” between representativeness and governability he described has become an axiom of institutional theory and a fundamental assumption when anticipating the trade-offs inherent in institutional design.

    The political institution that has the greatest impact on both representativeness and governability is the electoral system, because it determines both the threshold for representation and the number of political parties that must normally cooperate to make policy. While we recognize that small parties may be necessary to faithfully represent diverse...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 151-168)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 169-184)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 185-193)