A Profile of Legislator Perceptions of Interest Group Behavior Relating To Legislative Issues in the States

Published date01 December 1971
Date01 December 1971
Subject MatterArticles
University of Washington
T THIS JUNCTURE of inquiry into the nature of policy-making in the
United States, no one needs to be cautioned about the significance of inter-
est group representatives in the formulation of public policy. To simply
recognize their significance and perhaps a few assorted manifestations of their
behavior, leaves us, of course, a long way from bringing their impact into sharp
descriptive focus. The problem is complicated by the fact that interest groups and
their representatives in the fifty states spring up in response to great diversities of
economy, geography, and social stratification. Literally thousands of interest group
leaders descend upon the state capitols in a host of particularistic ways and on a
great variety of issues, making it extremely difficult to bring together, bit by bit,
even the bare outlines of their impact.’
Clearly the alternatives for gaining perspective on this subject matter are
numerous. One way to proceed is to petition information from those who receive
and observe pressure group communication and who ultimately have some control
over its consequences -
that is, either legislators or administrators. In this study,
as it happens, the amorphous pressure group environment is organized through the
perceptions of legislators, 838 of whom offered their comments in a 1963 fifty-state
survey.2 By necessity, the results of the study are limited to those pressure group
activities that are visible to legislators.
The foremost concern of this paper will be to convey the extent to which
pressure groups are active over different types of legislative policy-making. Under-
lying this concern is the assumption that variations in the substance of issues and
legislation will be characterized by correspondingly different sub-systems of actors.
Pressure group representatives will have a varying role, depending upon the sub-
stantive nature of policy questions. In some areas of policy their actions will be
of minimal consequence, while in other areas they will be an integral part of the
decision-making process. Elaboration of this theme will be accomplished in four
steps: ( 1 ) a classification of &dquo;powerful&dquo; pressure groups; (2) an examination of
pressure group activity and conflict over &dquo;important&dquo; issues; (3) an examination of
The literature contains a large number of case studies on pressure groups, many of which
are listed by Harmon Zeigler in his chapter, "Interest Groups in the States," appearing
in Herbert Jacob and Kenneth N. Vines, eds., Poltics in the American States (Boston:
Little, Brown, 1965). Other than Zeigler’s chapter and his earlier book, Interest Groups
in American Society (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1964), broad-based studies on
state-level pressure groups are difficult to come by. Studies helpful in this respect in-
clude Samuel C. Patterson, "The Role of the Lobbyist: The Case of Oklahoma," Jour-
nal of Politics, 25 (1963), 72-92; Nicholas A. Masters, Robert H. Salisbury and
Thomas H. Eliot, State Politics and the Public Schools (Nek York: Knopf, 1964);
Michael O. Usden, David W. Minar and Emanuel Hurwitz, Education and State
Politics (New York: Teachers College Press, 1969).
A detailed evaluation of the survey may be found in the author’s work, Legislative Issues
in the Fifty States (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1967).

legislator &dquo;consultation&dquo; with pressure group leaders; and (4) a comparison of
the results of the above three steps.
In 1963 legislators were asked to indicate what they considered to be the
most powerful interest groups in their state. Over three thousand identifications
were provided, the great bulk of which (94 percent) referred to interest groups
representing businessmen, professional men, laborers, farmers, and government
officials. The largest number of responses (43 percent) identified business groups.
As illustrated in Table I, the responses were impressively specific. Only a small
number of legislators utilized the general term &dquo;business.&dquo; Most responses were
much more descriptive, naming specific industries, or specific business associations,
such as the Chamber of Commerce and the State Manufacturers’ Association.
The specificity of response in naming powerful pressure groups reveals the
nature of the learning environment in pre-legislative experiences and in the legis-
lative session itself. Only 4 percent of the legislators employed the general term
&dquo;business&dquo; to describe such groups. In other areas of pressure group activity,
12 percent utilized the general term &dquo;government officials,&dquo; 28 percent the term
&dquo;farmers&dquo; rather than something more specific, 67 percent the general terms &dquo;edu-
cation&dquo; or &dquo;educational groups,&dquo; and 76 percent the general term &dquo;labor.&dquo; The
occupational and political backgrounds of the legislators...

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