Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-888d5979f-bkf9v Total loading time: 0.247 Render date: 2021-10-25T09:39:41.454Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Polarized Pluralism: Organizational Preferences and Biases in the American Pressure System

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 July 2020

Princeton University and Trinity University
University of Michigan
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Jesse M. Crosson, Research Fellow, Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University, and Assistant Professor (on leave), Department of Political Science, Trinity University,
Alexander C. Furnas, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Political Science, University of Michigan,
Geoffrey M. Lorenz, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,


For decades, critics of pluralism have argued that the American interest group system exhibits a significantly biased distribution of policy preferences. We evaluate this argument by measuring groups’ revealed preferences directly, developing a set of ideal point estimates, IGscores, for over 2,600 interest groups and 950 members of Congress on a common scale. We generate the scores by jointly scaling a large dataset of interest groups’ positions on congressional bills with roll-call votes on those same bills. Analyses of the scores uncover significant heterogeneity in the interest group system, with little conservative skew and notable inter-party differences in preference correspondence between legislators and ideologically similar groups. Conservative bias and homogeneity reappear, however, when weighting IGscores by groups’ PAC contributions and lobbying expenditures. These findings suggest that bias among interest groups depends on the extent to which activities like PAC contributions and lobbying influence policymakers’ perceptions about the preferences of organized interests.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


The authors thank Amy Cesal, Alton Worthington, Kevin Quinn, Christopher Fariss, Kevin McAlister, John Jackson, Brian Richter, Richard Hall, Julia Payson, Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Adam Bonica, and participants at the University of Michigan Interdisciplinary Workshop on American Politics, Political Economy Workshop at the Harris School of Public Policy, and the Political Behavior Research Group at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, for their helpful feedback, comments, and assistance in this project. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:


Arnold, R. Douglas. 1992. The Logic of Congressional Action. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Austen-Smith, David, and Wright, John R.. 1994. “Counteractive Lobbying.” American Journal of Political Science 38 (1): 2544.10.2307/2111334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bailey, Michael A., and Maltzman, Forrest. 2011. The Constrained Court: Law, Politics, and the Decisions Justices Make. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Baumgartner, Frank R., Berry, Jeffrey M., Hojnacki, Marie, Leech, Beth L., and Kimball, David C.. 2009. Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.10.7208/chicago/9780226039466.001.0001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baumgartner, Frank R., and Leech, Beth L.. 1998. Basic Interests: The Importance of Groups in Politics and in Political Science. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.10.1515/9781400822485CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Berry, Jeffrey M. 2010. The New Liberalism: The Rising Power of Citizen Groups. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
Bertelli, Anthony M., and Grose, Christian R.. 2011. “The Lengthened Shadow of another Institution? Ideal Point Estimates for the Executive Branch and Congress.” American Journal of Political Science 55 (4): 767781.10.1111/j.1540-5907.2011.00527.xCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bonica, Adam. 2013. “Ideology and Interests in the Political Marketplace.” American Journal of Political Science 57 (2): 294311.10.1111/ajps.12014CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bonica, Adam. 2014. “Mapping the Ideological Marketplace.” American Journal of Political Science 58 (2): 367386.10.1111/ajps.12062CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Broockman, David E., and Skovron, Christopher. 2018. “Bias in Perceptions of Public Opinion among Political Elites.” American Political Science Review 112 (3): 542563.10.1017/S0003055418000011CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chen, Jowei, and Johnson, Tim. 2015. “Federal Employee Unionization and Presidential Control of the Bureaucracy: Estimating and Explaining Ideological Change in Executive Agencies.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 27 (1): 151174.10.1177/0951629813518126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clinton, Joshua, Jackman, Simon, and Rivers, Douglas. 2004. “The Statistical Analysis of Roll Call Data.” American Political Science Review 98 (2): 355370.10.1017/S0003055404001194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clinton, Joshua D., Bertelli, Anthony, Grose, Christian R., Lewis, David E., and Nixon, David C.. 2012. “Separated Powers in the United States: The Ideology of Agencies, Presidents, and Congress.” American Journal of Political Science 56 (2): 341354.10.1111/j.1540-5907.2011.00559.xCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dahl, Robert A. 1956. A Preface to Democratic Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Dahl, Robert A. 1961. Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
De Figueiredo, John M., and Silverman, Brian S.. 2006. “Academic Earmarks and the Returns to Lobbying.” The Journal of Law and Economics 49 (2): 597625.10.1086/508248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Denzau, Arthur T., and Munger, Michael C.. 1986. “Legislators and Interest Groups: How Unorganized Interests Get Represented.” American Political Science Review 80 (1): 89106.10.2307/1957085CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dorogovtsev, Sergey N., Goltsev, Alexander V., and Mendes, Jose Ferreira. 2006. “K-Core Organization of Complex Networks.” Physical Review Letters 96 (4): 040601.10.1103/PhysRevLett.96.040601CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Drutman, Lee. 2015. The Business of America is Lobbying: How Corporations Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190215514.001.0001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Esterling, Kevin M. 2007. “Buying Expertise: Campaign Contributions and Attention to Policy Analysis in Congressional Committees.” American Political Science Review 101 (01): 93109.10.1017/S0003055407070116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Evans, Diana. 1996. “Before the Roll Call: Interest Group Lobbying and Public Policy Outcomes in House Committees.” Political Research Quarterly 49 (2): 287304.10.1177/106591299604900203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fiorina, Morris P. 1974. Representatives, Roll Calls, and Constituencies. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
Fouirnaies, Alexander. 2018. “When Are Agenda Setters Valuable?American Journal of Political Science 62 (1): 176191.10.1111/ajps.12316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fouirnaies, Alexander, and Hall, Andrew B.. 2018. “How Do Interest Groups Seek Access To Committees?American Journal of Political Science 62 (1): 132147.10.1111/ajps.12323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gause, LaGina. 2016. “The Advantage of Disadvantage: Legislative Responsiveness to Collective Action by the Politically Marginalized.” PhD diss. University of Michigan.Google Scholar
Gillion, Daniel Q. 2012. “Protest and Congressional Behavior: Assessing Racial and Ethnic Minority Protests in the District.” The Journal of Politics 74 (4): 950962.10.1017/S0022381612000539CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grimmer, Justin, and Powell, Eleanor Neff. 2013. “Congressmen in Exile: The Politics and Consequences of Involuntary Committee Removal.” The Journal of Politics 75 (04): 907920.10.1017/S0022381613000704CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grossmann, Matt, and Dominguez, Casey B. K.. 2009. “Party Coalitions and Interest Group Networks.” American Politics Research 37 (5): 767800.10.1177/1532673X08329464CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grossmann, Matt, and Hopkins, David A.. 2016. Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190626594.001.0001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hacker, Jacob S., and Pierson, Paul. 2005. Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Hacker, Jacob S., and Pierson, Paul. 2010. Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
Hall, Richard L., and Deardorff, Alan V.. 2006. “Lobbying as Legislative Subsidy.” American Political Science Review 100 (01): 6984.10.1017/S0003055406062010CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hall, Richard L., and Wayman, Frank W.. 1990. “Buying Time: Moneyed Interests and the Mobilization of Bias in Congressional Committees.” American Political Science Review 84 (3): 797820.10.2307/1962767CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hansford, Thomas G., and Depaoli, Sarah. n.d. “Estimating the Ideal Points of Organized Interests in Legal Policy Space.” Working Paper. Scholar
Hare, Christopher, Armstrong, David A., Bakker, Ryan, Carroll, Royce, and Poole, Keith T.. 2015. “Using Bayesian Aldrich-Mckelvey Scaling to Study Citizens’ Ideological Preferences and Perceptions.” American Journal of Political Science 59 (3): 759774.10.1111/ajps.12151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Heaney, Michael T., and Lorenz, Geoffrey M.. 2013. “Coalition Portfolios and Interest Group Influence over the Policy Process.” Interest Groups & Advocacy 2 (3): 251277.10.1057/iga.2013.7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander. 2018. Politics at Work: How Companies Turn Their Workers Into Lobbyists. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander. 2019. State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States–and the Nation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander, Mildenberger, Matto, and Stokes, Leah C.. 2019. “Legislative Staff and Representation in Congress.” American Political Science Review 113 (1): 118.10.1017/S0003055418000606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hix, Simon, Noury, Abdul, and Roland, Gerard. 2006. “Dimensions of Politics in the European Parliament.” American Journal of Political Science 50 (2): 494520.10.1111/j.1540-5907.2006.00198.xCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hojnacki, Marie, Kimball, David C., Baumgartner, Frank R., Berry, Jeffrey M., and Leech, Beth L.. 2012. “Studying Organizational Advocacy and Influence: Reexamining Interest Group Research.” Annual Review of Political Science 15: 379–99.10.1146/annurev-polisci-070910-104051CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kalla, Joshua L., and Broockman, David E.. 2016. “Campaign Contributions Facilitate Access to Congressional Officials: A Randomized Field Experiment.” American Journal of Political Science 60 (3): 545558.10.1111/ajps.12180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kang, Karam. 2015. “Policy Influence and Private Returns from Lobbying in the Energy Sector.” The Review of Economic Studies 83 (1): 269305.10.1093/restud/rdv029CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kingdon, John W. 1989. Congressmen’s Voting Decisions. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.10.3998/mpub.7354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kollman, Ken. 1998. Outside Lobbying: Public Opinion and Interest Group Strategies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Kruschke, John K. 2013. “Bayesian Estimation Supersedes the t Test.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 142 (2): 573603.10.1037/a0029146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
LaPira, Timothy M., and Thomas, Herschel F.. 2017. Revolving Door Lobbying: Public Service, Private Influence, and the Unequal Representation of Interests. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.Google Scholar
Lewis, Jeffrey B., Poole, Keith, Rosenthal, Howard, Boche, Adam, Rudkin, Aaron, and Sonnet, Luke. 2020. Voteview: Congressional Roll-Call Votes Database. Scholar
Lindblom, Charles E. 1982. “The Market as Prison.” The Journal of Politics 44 (2): 324336.10.2307/2130588CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lorenz, Geoffrey M. (2020). “Prioritized Interests: Diverse Lobbying Coalitions and Congressional Committee Agenda-Setting.” Journal of Politics 82 (1): 225240.10.1086/705744CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lowery, David, and Gray, Virginia. 2004. “Bias in the Heavenly Chorus: Interests in Society and before Government.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 16 (1): 529.10.1177/0951629804038900CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lowry, Robert C., and Potoski, Matthew. 2004. “Organized Interests and the Politics of Federal Discretionary Grants.” Journal of Politics 66 (2): 513533.10.1111/j.1468-2508.2004.00162.xCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Martin, Andrew D., and Quinn, Kevin M.. 2002. “Dynamic Ideal Point Estimation via Markov Chain Monte Carlo for the US Supreme Court, 1953–1999.” Political Analysis 10 (2): 134153.10.1093/pan/10.2.134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McKay, Amy. 2008. “A Simple Way of Estimating Interest Group Ideology.” Public Choice 136 (1): 6986.10.1007/s11127-008-9281-2CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McKay, Amy. 2012. “Buying Policy? The Effects of Lobbyists’ Resources on Their Policy Success.” Political Research Quarterly 65 (4): 908923.10.1177/1065912911424285CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Miler, Kristina C. 2010. Constituency Representation in Congress: The View from Capitol Hill. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511779404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Olson, Mancur. 1965. The Logic of Collective Action; Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Phinney, Robin. 2017. Strange Bedfellows: Interest Group Coalitions, Diverse Partners, and Influence in American Social Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/9781316756287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Poole, Keith T. 2005. Spatial Models of Parliamentary Voting. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511614644CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 1991. “Patterns of Congressional Voting.” American Journal of Political Science 35 (1): 228278.10.2307/2111445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 2001. “D-NOMINATE After 10 Years: A Comparative Update to Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll-Call Voting.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 26 (1): 529.10.2307/440401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Richter, Brian Kelleher, Samphantharak, Krislert, and Timmons, Jeffrey F.. 2009. “Lobbying and Taxes.” American Journal of Political Science 53 (4): 893909.10.1111/j.1540-5907.2009.00407.xCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Romer, Thomas, and Snyder, James M. Jr. 1994. “An Empirical Investigation of the Dynamics of PAC Contributions.” American Journal of Political Science 38 (3): 745769.10.2307/2111605CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Salisbury, Robert H. 1984. “Interest Representation: The Dominance of Institutions.” American Political Science Review 78 (1): 6476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Salisbury, Robert H., Heinz, John P., Laumann, Edward O., and Nelson, Robert L.. 1987. “Who Works with Whom? Interest Group Alliances and Opposition.” American Political Science Review 81 (4): 12171234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sartori, Giovanni. 2005 (1976). Parties and Party Systems: A Framework for Analysis. Colchester, UK: ECPR press.Google Scholar
Schattschneider, E. E. 1960. The Semisovereign People: A Realist’s View of Democracy in America. Chicago: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.Google Scholar
Schlozman, Kay Lehman, and Tierney, John T.. 1983. “More of the Same: Washington Pressure Group Activity in a Decade of Change.” Journal of Politics 45 (2): 351–73.10.2307/2130130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schlozman, Kay Lehman, and Tierney, John T.. 1986. Organized Interests and American Democracy. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
Schlozman, Kay Lehman, Verba, Sidney, and Brady, Henry E.. 2012. The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Schnakenberg, Keith E., and Fariss, Christopher J.. 2014. “Dynamic Patterns of Human Rights Practices.” Political Science Research and Methods 2 (1): 131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sorauf, Frank J. 1992. Inside Campaign Finance. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Tausanovitch, Chris, and Warshaw, Christopher. 2013. “Measuring Constituent Policy Preferences in Congress, State Legislatures, and Cities.” The Journal of Politics 75 (2): 330342.10.1017/S0022381613000042CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Thieme, Sebastian. Forthcoming. “Moderation or Strategy? Political Giving by Corporations and Trade Groups.” Journal of Politics. Scholar
Tripathi, Micky, Ansolabehere, Stephen, and Snyder, James M.. 2002. “Are PAC Contributions and Lobbying Linked? New Evidence from The 1995 Lobby Disclosure Act.” Business and Politics 4 (2): 131155.10.2202/1469-3569.1034CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Truman, David B. 1951. The Governmental Process. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.Google Scholar
Victor, Jennifer Nicoll. 2007. “Strategic Lobbying: Demonstrating How Legislative Context Affects Interest Groups’ Lobbying Tactics.” American Politics Research 35 (6): 826845.10.1177/1532673X07300681CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vogel, David. 2003. Fluctuating Fortunes: The Political Power of Business in America. Frederick, MD: Beard Books.Google Scholar
Walker, Edward T. 2009. “Privatizing Participation: Civic Change and the Organizational Dynamics of Grassroots Lobbying Firms.” American Sociological Review 74 (1): 83105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Walker, Jack L. 1983. “The Origins and Maintenance of Interest Groups in America.” American Political Science Review 77 (02): 390406.10.2307/1958924CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Waterhouse, Benjamin C. 2013. Lobbying America: The Politics of Business from Nixon to NAFTA, Volume 99. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Wilson, James Q. 1980. The Politics of Regulation. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Wright, John R. 1985. “PACS, Contributions, and Roll Calls: An Organizational Perspective.” American Political Science Review 79 (2): 400414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Supplementary material: Link

Crosson et al. Dataset

Supplementary material: PDF

Crosson et al. supplementary material

Crosson et al. supplementary material

Download Crosson et al. supplementary material(PDF)
Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Polarized Pluralism: Organizational Preferences and Biases in the American Pressure System
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Polarized Pluralism: Organizational Preferences and Biases in the American Pressure System
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Polarized Pluralism: Organizational Preferences and Biases in the American Pressure System
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *