What Factors Guide Issue Prioritization among Interest Groups? Evidence from Australia

Stream: Panel 8 - Comparative Politics: Political Parties and Interests Groups 
Date: Monday, 26 September 2016
Time: 11.30 am – 1.00 pm


Interest groups are important intermediaries in western democracies, with the potential to offer political linkage. They can function as filter or barometer of the preferences of particular groups in society, and in that way form a bridge between the concerns of citizens and the agenda of political elites. And while we know an increasing amount about the issue-based activity of groups, we do not as yet know much at all about how they selected these issues to work on, or why they decide not to focus their activities on particular matters.. This raises the question: How do groups prioritize issues? In this paper, we provide a first empirical assessment of this question, based on survey data gathered from nationally active interest groups in Australia. We first develop the concept of issue prioritization and operationalize it by way of a scale that captures the mix of factors driving the issue prioritization process. Subsequently, we apply this to our survey data. We find that internal factors – such as a group’s mission/goals and member preferences – are generally the most important factors that affect issue prioritization, while external factors – such as issue salience and Political Opportunity Structure (POS) – are least important. We review the implications of these findings for arguments about (i) the role of the political environment in stimulating political mobilization and (ii) normative discussions of group’s as representative agents in democratic systems.


Darren Halpin (Presenter), ANU

Bert Fraussen (Presenter), ANU

Anthony Nownes (Presenter), University of Tennessee