The Power of the Party: Conflict Expansion and the Agenda Diversity of Interest Groups

Date01 March 2021
Published date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2021, Vol. 74(1) 90 –102
© 2019 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912919867142
Recent scholarship has developed the concept of extended
political parties to capture the influence of networks of
interest groups and other intense policy demanders in the
American party system (Bawn et al. 2012; Bernstein and
Dominguez 2003; Cohen et al. 2008; Desmarais, La Raja,
and Kowal 2015; Grossmann and Dominguez 2009;
Koger, Masket, and Noel 2009, 2010; M. A. Schwartz
1990; Skinner 2004). This literature tends to focus on the
ability of these networks to constrain or shape the policy
agendas and preferences of political parties. In this article,
we examine the opposite: the impact of political parties on
the policy agenda of the interest groups. We argue that
interest groups that align themselves with political parties
behave differently from interest groups that do not. As pre-
dicted by Schattschneider (1960), interest groups that align
closely with political parties expand the scope of conflicts
that they participate in. Groups then begin to take positions
on policy that may be outside of their core mission and do
so at their own peril. We claim that the expansion may be
caused by both rational, policy-seeking behavior and
boundedly rational motivations outside of the organiza-
tion’s mission. Various mechanisms—ranging from elec-
toral incentives, reciprocity, identification with the means,
and cue-taking behavior—result in a more cohesive
extended party network where groups are more likely to
take positions on issues outside of their typical niches and
in cooperation with their aligned political party.
Schattschneider (1942, 37) once wrote that the “pos-
session of the vast resources of a modern government, its
authority, its organization, administrative establishment,
and so on, will provide something for nearly everyone
willing to join hands in the political enterprise.” We argue
that extended political parties provide both opportunities
and costs for interest groups. Through alignment with
parties, groups gain the ability to weigh in on more issues
than they may otherwise be able to, and therefore access
the vast resources of modern government. But, they also
risk being drawn into fights they may not otherwise wish
to enter.
We examine the relationship between party alignment
and the diversity of interest group agendas by examining
the policy content of position-taking on bills considered
by the 110th to 113th Congress. We draw our sample from
Schlozman et al.’s (2011) “Washington Representatives”
data set and link organizations to bill position information
made available by Maplight. We measure the policy
867142PRQXXX10.1177/1065912919867142Political Research QuarterlyFagan et al.
1University of Texas at Austin, USA
2University of Texas at Arlington, USA
Corresponding Author:
Herschel F. Thomas, Department of Political Science, University of
Texas at Arlington, Box 19539, 601 S. Nedderman Drive, Arlington,
TX 76019, USA.
The Power of the Party: Conflict
Expansion and the Agenda Diversity
of Interest Groups
E. J. Fagan1, Zachary A. McGee1, and Herschel F. Thomas2
To what extent do political parties have an effect on the policy-related activity of interest groups? Drawing from
ideas of conflict expansion and the structure of extended party networks, we argue that political parties are able to
pull interest groups into more policy conflicts than they otherwise would be involved in. We posit that parties are
able to draw interest groups to be active outside of established issue niches. We suggest that several mechanisms—
shared partisan electoral incentives, reciprocity, identification with the means, and cue-taking behavior—lead groups
to participate in more diverse political conflicts. By linking data on interest group bill positions and the policy content
of legislation, we generate a novel measure of 158 interest groups’ alignment with political parties. We find that the
more an interest group is ideologically aligned with a political party, the more diverse their issue agenda becomes.
political parties, policy agendas, interest groups, extended party networks

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