Organized Groups and the (Mis?)Transmission of Public Preferences
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This paper examines formally organized groups as vehicles for the expression of people’s preferences. The core questions are, first, whether the underlying distribution of preferences in society is reflected accurately in the society’s organizational structure and, second, whether state policies as shaped by interest-group pressure accurately reflect these preferences. This is a test, in short, of classic pluralist theory.
The data concern all not-for-profit corporations formed in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. Some information is derived from incorporation records and the rest is from a survey of active organizations.
Under certain assumptions about the relative importance of associations, the paper examines them in relation to three social cleavages which define preferences — ethnicity, class, and the urban-rural division. Distortions in preference-expression can arise because of differences in populations’ capacities to organize, differences in groups’ abilities to enter political markets and to succeed in them, and also because of state-induced biases in the structure and functioning of the associational system.
In the case at hand, most distortion across the cleavages examined arises from initial collective-action problems, rather than the working of political exchange or the effects on associations of state actors’ autonomous decisions. Moreover, these differences in the capacity of groups to organize appear to be correcting themselves somewhat. In this case, then, political markets seem to operate as widely accepted notions of democracy would prescribe.
KeywordsInterest Group Survey Question Civil Servant Policy Market Provincial Government
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