The Not-So-Special Interests: Interest Groups, Public Representation, and American Governance

Matt Grossmann. Stanford Univ., $24.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-8047-8116-9
Tea Partyers and Occupiers alike think of “special interests” as shadowy cabals that subvert the people’s will, but this stimulating academic study finds them a faithful mirror of the body politic. Michigan State University political scientist Grossmann (coauthor of Campaigns & Elections: Rules, Reality, Strategy, Choice) compiles data on thousands of advocacy organizations—from the NRA to the AARP—to explain why some groups, like gun owners and seniors, develop effective representation in Washington while others do not. He advances a rich theory of “Behavioral Pluralism” based on “civic and political capacity”: constituencies that are more engaged with public affairs and their communities, he contends, make their voices heard better through organized representation. His companion theory of “Institutionalized Pluralism” argues that some advocacy groups grow more prominent than others, not because of PAC funding or media bias, but because of longevity, expert staffs, well-shaped sound bites, and legislative proposals. Though this lucid but bone-dry treatment wallows in statistics, the numbers generate an illuminating discussion of the centrality of factions in representative government. Grossmann’s clear-eyed analysis of who gets a seat at the table suggests that democracy’s faults lie not in our lobbyists but in ourselves. (May)
Reviewed on: 02/27/2012
Release date: 04/01/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 236 pages - 978-0-8047-8115-2
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