Dave Kukfa Security engineer etc.

Theories of History

Explained in both essay and video formats by Samo Burja:

Everyone has an implicit theory of history– usually inconsistent across time periods and typically incoherent without explication and conscious work, it will nonetheless be the basis of much of your action in the world. Most people never discover theirs simply because they don’t realize they’re acting on one. Now that you have the concept– what is yours?

Advantage of the Status Quo

Status quo policies and incumbent politicians often have a systemic advantage in the political arena.

Some examples from Interest Groups and Lobbying:

In sum, when public interest groups are the challengers of the status quo, there is little evidence that they are getting anywhere at the Supreme Court. Of course when it comes to the consumer protection and environmental laws that these groups convinced Congress to enact in the 1960s and 70s, they are the ones defending the status quo, and they have the advantage. Basically the judiciary is a conservative institution in that judges and justices defer to the legislative and executive branches when they can, so challenging any policy status quo in the judiciary is an uphill battle. The payoff is enormous when successful, but it is a significant gamble of time and resources. … Petitioner groups win far more than respondent groups, but remember that in an appellate court it is likely that the petitioner group was originally the respondent and is actually defending the status quo! It is a common lesson in this book: status quo policies are hard to overthrow.


Bargaining Between Competing Interest Groups

Context:

  • When the government leases land for oil drilling, it receives a royalty
  • In this example, the National Wildlife Federation and the American Petroleum Institute are competing over the issue of how much of this money should be spent on parks
  • The NWF and its members want more money for parks and less miles for drilling; the API wants the opposite
  • Each respective group’s ideal policy is at the points labeled NWF and API, though each group would never agree to the other’s ideal position
  • The solid curved lines represent the maximum trade-off that each interest group’s members will tolerate
  • Point C represents the best possible compromise between the two groups

It becomes more complicated if a status quo policy already exists, and it usually does. Say point SQ1 in Figure 9.2 is the current policy and provides NWF with more money for less drilling than the API’s lobbyist would accept because it is higher on the vertical axis than the API’s curve. SQ1 is closer to NWF than it is to point C, so the NWF’s lobbyist will not bargain with the API because he or she knows the status quo is better than anything API will agree to. In other words, there can be no bargain in this scenario, and the NWF will fight to preserve the status quo. If the status quo was SQ2, then the NWF’s lobbyist would jump at the compromise at point C because it gives his or her members more of what they want than the status quo. But the API lobbyist would not support a deal at C because the status quo (SQ2) is closer to what his or her members ideally want. So bargaining and coalition building depend on what trade-offs members will tolerate and what the alternatives to not bargaining are, including the status quo.

In interest group negotiations like this, the status quo provides an advantage to whichever side it benefits most, since it bends the range of acceptable compromises towards the side of the status quo holder.


It takes money to raise money in politics. Raising money early is crucial to elected officials, especially challengers, though incumbents use early money to discourage potential challengers (Jacobson 1992). PAC leaders understand this, and some, like EMILY’s List, specifically contribute early to help favored candidates raise more money down the line (Box-Steffensmeier, Radcliffe, and Bartels 2005). Most PACs, though, are conservative about contributing early because they want to back winners. It is another reason why they favor incumbents (who nearly always win) and are often unwilling to take chances on challengers unless challengers show early on that they can win, usually through aggressive fundraising. For candidates challenging incumbents, this PAC mind-set makes raising money extremely difficult. More ideological, nonconnected PACs and super-PACs, however, are more likely to take risks on challengers who embrace their ideological positions. Non-ideological PACs, however, are only likely to give money early when a partisan wave is building that might change the balance of power, as happened in 1980 (Eismeier and Pollock 1986), 1994, and 2010.

Institutionalization of Social Movements

From Interest Groups and Lobbying:

If a social movement succeeds in cracking open the political system, it must then learn to play by the rules of the institution it has worked to crack. Movements rearrange some of the pieces of the power structure that supported policies at the root of their grievance, forcing back older, more entrenched interests by making them accept the legitimacy of the movement’s demands. They add their interest to the array of interests deemed worthy of government support, expanding the range of policy problems receiving government redress. This success is significant, but victory comes with costs, which may not be immediately apparent to the organizers of the social movement, who are now looking at careers as lobbyists. They must play by the rules and norms of the game they have struggled to join. The movement changed the beneficiaries of public policy and the values it enshrines, but not the way it is made. Activists-turned-lobbyists are now expected to work with lawmakers through the regular, institutionalized procedures of the political system. Bills will be introduced, other members of Congress will be lobbied, information packets developed, email campaigns launched—all with a united message that benefits their new legislative allies as much as their members. Other interest groups must be recruited as allies or bargained with as opponents. Because operating on the inside is much cheaper than staging protests, the groups staff are usually happy to oblige.

Passionate, dedicated movement members may not understand this transformation. They may not understand that further pursuing their interests now requires compromises with competing interests and paying attention to the needs of lawmakers. They may not understand the growing gulf between themselves and their leaders as the latter become part of the Washington social scene. While in many cases this simply leads to the loss of dispirited, disillusioned members, political scientist Anne Costain (1981) describes a much more dramatic result. At the 1975 national convention of the National Organization of Women (NOW), members forced out much of NOW’s Washington staff for the crime of playing by Washington’s rules, even though the professional activists had learned how to use them to the members advantage.

Social movements are therefore embryonic interest groups, though not all interest groups start as social movements. The trade and professional associations representing businesses and white-collar professions certainly did not start out as street protests. Citizen groups, on the other hand, often started out as some kind of social movement, their origins grounded in passionate political activism. Sometimes they still try to keep the trappings of it and fire up large numbers of members just to keep them involved in the group. Of course the real difference between the two is that social movements represent interests truly excluded from regular politics but who have the opportunity and resources to break in, whereas interest groups are already on the inside.

Revolving Door in Politics

Simple definition from Wikipedia:

Governments hire industry professionals for their private sector experience, their influence within corporations that the government is attempting to regulate or do business with, and in order to gain political support (donations and endorsements) from private firms.

Industry, in turn, hires people out of government positions to gain personal access to government officials, seek favorable legislation/regulation and government contracts in exchange for high-paying employment offers, and get inside information on what is going on in government.

The lobbying industry is especially affected by the revolving door concept, as the main asset for a lobbyist is contacts with and influence on government officials. This industrial climate is attractive for ex-government officials. It can also mean substantial monetary rewards for the lobbying firms and government projects and contracts in the hundreds of millions for those they represent.

From Interest Groups and Lobbying:

As noted above, 80 percent of lobbyists came into lobbying from government jobs. Lobbyists told Heinz and his colleagues that government service helped launch their lobbying careers. Of the lobbyists interviewed, 70 percent said it gave them familiarity with issues, 80 percent said it taught them how the lawmaking process works, 59 percent said it gave them important contacts in Congress, 48 percent said it gave them contacts in the administration, and 47 percent said it helped them gain contacts with other lobbyists (Heinz et al. 1993, 115).

This is what is colloquially called the revolving door. Many ex-Hill people end up at well-known lobbying firms such as the Podesta Group (which has the most ex-Hill staff at eighteen, according to Washington Representatives 2010, vii) and major interest groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce.

Why? Tony Podesta, founder of the Podesta Group, told the Washington Post that “people who are experienced in Washington tend to be better at doing this kind of work than people who have never worked in the government before.” Often the reason is strategic. The Motion Picture Association of America hired former senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) to be its new president because for years Dodd had chaired the Senate committee that controlled many of the policies important to the group (Romm 2011). Conflicts of interest? Maybe. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington found in 2011 that seven ex-congressmen were now lobbying for interests these legislators had supported with government appropriations while in Congress (Farnam 2012b).

The hiring of ex-legislators and legislative staffers as lobbyists (and the issue of who gets hired) has become a political issue. Interest groups and lobbying firms try to staff up with lobbyists of the same ideological persuasion as the party controlling Congress. For example, Republican staff members were in high demand in 1994 after their party gained control of the House and Senate (Stone 1996). Party leaders even threatened to shut several interest groups out of Congress if they did not hire Republican staff as lobbyists.

In the past, well-connected lobbyists … could easily work with both parties, bringing competing groups of interests together to hammer out deals and resolve conflicts (Ignatius 2000). Today, though, lobbyists are pressured by the parties to take sides, with their access threatened (which kills a lobbyist’s career) if they do not.

Perhaps even more interesting is that 605 congressional staffers in 2011 used to be lobbyists. When Republicans took over the House of Representatives that year, many new legislators recruited their senior staff from among the ranks of major lobbying firms and business associations (Farnam 2011). The door fully revolves. Government workers leave to make money as lobbyists, and some later return to work on the inside, possibly still biased toward the interest groups that recently employed them, and they could return to lobbying again in a couple of years for a lot more money.

Role of Public Opinion in Policy Making

Overview from Encyclopedia Britannica:

Political scientists have been less concerned with what part public opinion should play in a democratic polity and have given more attention to establishing what part it does play in actuality. From the examination of numerous histories of policy formation, it is clear that no sweeping generalization can be made that will hold in all cases. The role of public opinion varies from issue to issue, just as public opinion asserts itself differently from one democracy to another. Perhaps the safest generalization that can be made is that public opinion does not influence the details of most government policies but it does set limits within which policy makers must operate. That is, public officials will usually seek to satisfy a widespread demand—or at least take it into account in their deliberations—and they will usually try to avoid decisions that they believe will be widely unpopular.

The extent of public opinion’s influence within the US government is described in American Government 2e:

Individually, of course, politicians cannot predict what will happen in the future or who will oppose them in the next few elections. They can look to see where the public is in agreement as a body. If public mood changes, the politicians may change positions to match the public mood. The more savvy politicians look carefully to recognize when shifts occur. When the public is more or less liberal, the politicians may make slight adjustments to their behavior to match. Politicians who frequently seek to win office, like House members, will pay attention to the long- and short-term changes in opinion. By doing this, they will be less likely to lose on Election Day. Presidents and justices, on the other hand, present a more complex picture.

Overall, it appears that presidents try to move public opinion towards personal positions rather than moving themselves towards the public’s opinion. If presidents have enough public support, they use their level of public approval indirectly as a way to get their agenda passed.

… one study [on the House of Representatives], by James Stimson, found that the public mood does not directly affect elections, and shifts in public opinion do not predict whether a House member will win or lose. These elections are affected by the president on the ticket, presidential popularity (or lack thereof) during a midterm election, and the perks of incumbency, such as name recognition and media coverage. In fact, a later study confirmed that the incumbency effect is highly predictive of a win, and public opinion is not. In spite of this, we still see policy shifts in Congress, often matching the policy preferences of the public. … The study’s authors hypothesize that House members alter their votes to match the public mood, perhaps in an effort to strengthen their electoral chances.

The Senate is quite different from the House. Senators do not enjoy the same benefits of incumbency, and they win reelection at lower rates than House members. Yet, they do have one advantage over their colleagues in the House: Senators hold six-year terms, which gives them time to engage in fence-mending to repair the damage from unpopular decisions. In the Senate, Stimson’s study confirmed that opinion affects a senator’s chances at reelection, even though it did not affect House members. Specifically, the study shows that when public opinion shifts, fewer senators win reelection. Thus, when the public as a whole becomes more or less liberal, new senators are elected. Rather than the senators shifting their policy preferences and voting differently, it is the new senators who change the policy direction of the Senate.

There is some disagreement about whether the Supreme Court follows public opinion or shapes it. The lifetime tenure the justices enjoy was designed to remove everyday politics from their decisions, protect them from swings in political partisanship, and allow them to choose whether and when to listen to public opinion. More often than not, the public is unaware of the Supreme Court’s decisions and opinions. … But do the justices pay attention to the polls when they make decisions? … Studies that look at the connection between the Supreme Court and public opinion are contradictory. … Overall, however, it is clear that public opinion has a less powerful effect on the courts than on the other branches and on politicians. Perhaps this is due to the lack of elections or justices’ lifetime tenure, or perhaps we have not determined the best way to measure the effects of public opinion on the Court.

This dynamic is reinforced in Interest Groups and Lobbying, which illustrates how public opinion impacts the success of social movements and interest groups in making policy changes:

Movements also need opportunities to succeed. It is romantic to think that movements create their own opportunities through passionate protests, but protests more often capitalize and expand on already existing opportunities than create new ones. Usually such political opportunities arise when the interests of the aggrieved group may be convincingly portrayed as consistent with dominant social values. As noted earlier, the United States goes through cycles in which an emphasis on collective morality as the legitimate basis for lawmaking is displaced by economic individualism (McFarland 1991). Then, when the pendulum swings too far in that direction, interest in the collective good reasserts itself. If current policy treats a social group harshly during times of stability, it is presumed that they brought it on themselves, and nothing is done to help them. But when new values begin reshaping public policy, there may be an opportunity for marginalized interests to link their grievances to now important social values and gain public sympathy. Radical ideas start to have the ring of truth, and would-be leaders of the oppressed group see that an opportunity has arisen and the time is right to demand justice (Meyer 1993, 455; Tilly 1978).

The issues that members of Congress are concerned with, and how they should be resolved, are largely determined by the policy positions that please their “reelection constituency”, meaning the voters who voted for them in the past and hopefully will do so again (Fenno 1978). Lobbyists need legislators to influence policy in Congress, so lobbyists must persuade legislators that what group members want is more or less consistent with what their reelection constituencies want.

Balancing Interests in the Political System on Hours of Truck Driving

The vertical black line [in the “Champion legislator” section] shows that the legislator prefers a less restrictive policy when it comes to determining hours a trucker can drive. Perhaps the legislator is from a state where trucking is a major employer and he or she wants more industry support in the next election. Although the legislator is somewhat flexible about the ideal policy (is eight hours that different from seven and a half?), there are limits, shown by the tentlike dashed lines and gray areas in the … graph. He or she will not support a driving hours policy in the gray “vote no” zone. The white area around the legislator’s preferred policy, however, represents the other proposals he or she could be persuaded by the ATA to support in exchange for votes in the next election. Take the proposal represented by the dashed vertical line. It is not ideally supported by most ATA members, nor is it the legislator’s ideal solution, but it is close enough to the solid vertical lines for the legislator to support it and still expect to have the votes of a plurality, perhaps even a majority, of truckers.

So the ATA lobbyist can advocate for a compromise everyone can live with. The dashed line connecting group members to the legislator … represents this policy compromise on the driving hours issue. It is still … in the main bubble of group member preferences and also not in the legislator’s “vote no” zone. The legislator can comfortably support this policy, and many—perhaps most—group members will also support it. Almost everyone more or less gets what they want. The legislator will push for the policy in Congress, which means the lobbyist’s goal has been achieved, and his or her career remains in good shape.

What about the rest of Congress? One legislator may be all a lobbyist needs to get a policy proposal introduced in Congress, whether as a new bill or an amendment to an existing bill, but it does not get the job done. No one is an island when it comes to making policy, whether it is a new statute, a new judicial precedent, or a new administrative rule. Both houses of Congress need majorities to move policies out of committee and through the parent chamber, with sixty plus votes often needed in the Senate to overcome a filibuster. Presidential executive orders and agency rules can be overridden by legislative statute or sometimes influenced by Congress (McCubbins and Schwartz 1984; Balla 1998); federal judicial decisions may be overturned by statute; and statutes, rules, executive orders, and lower court decisions can all be struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. It is a lawmaking system with many parts, and no lobbyist dares to forget it.

This means moving beyond a simple alignment of group member interests with the interests of one lawmaker. To keep this simple I focus here on just the US House of Representatives. The House operates under straight majority rule, meaning a majority of representatives must be willing to vote for whatever policy is preferred by ATA members and the legislator … . Since the lobbyist and legislator want the new policy enacted, they must choose [a] position on the number of driving hours, one that they think can pass the House. Yet the lobbyist, and to some extent the reelection-minded legislator, must still keep an eye on what group members will accept, making the balancing act even more precarious.

In the bottom graph … , I [formulate] the distribution of ATA member preferences over the driving hours continuum so that the tentlike shape is a combination of all members’ ideal positions and intensity of their feelings. If members were more united in their preferences for policy outcomes, and/or felt more strongly about this issue, then more members would leave the group the further the lobbyist’s official position was from the solid vertical line—and the dashed tented lines would have steeper slopes. At the top … is a similar graph for the members of the House. Some care about trucking policy, while others couldn’t care less, but the white space under the peak indicates the policy positions that would garner a majority of votes in the House. The vertical solid black line marks the position that would attract the most votes.

The lobbyist and the champion legislator know where the House collectively stands on the driving hours issue and what positions can win a majority. The policy acceptable to the most legislators and group members is marked by the dashed line running through all three parts … . It is not what the champion legislator would ideally prefer, and it is not likely to gain anything more than a bare majority of votes in the House. It can just barely be sold by the lobbyist to enough ATA members to keep the group viable because it is fairly restrictive in the number of allowable driving hours. But for most group members and legislators it is better than nothing, and nothing would have been the result if the lobbyist had pushed a position that more ATA members would support, or one more ideally suited to the champion legislator’s goals. That was impossible, so the lobbyist skillfully balances all of the competing pressures he or she is under, satisfying the demands of all eight assumptions, to produce a policy that at least passes the House and pleases more trucking companies than it angers. Lobbying is not only the art of persuasion; it is the science of the possible, though there is an art to making the possible look desirable.

There are several points to take away from this model. First, it provides insight into the real job of lobbyists. Lobbyists are sellers: people whose job it is to convince others, such as their members and the lawmakers controlling the levers of power, that achieving a policy outcome is in their interests. Second, it shows that lobbying is about compromise. Lobbyists must convince all parties involved to accept an outcome that is less than ideal because their individual preferences are impossible to achieve given the current disposition of everyone else in the political system. Lobbyists have difficult jobs trying to balance these competing interests, finding the one position that enough people—group members, champion legislators, and other legislators—can all agree to and arriving at the best policy they can get. The lobbyist only needs to avoid picking a position that alienates too many of his or her members (the shaded region of the lower [graph]). Lobbyists may, however, use their control of information to convince members that the policy compromise getting enacted into law is actually better than what members originally wanted. And this simple model fails to include senators, the president, the bureaucracy, other interest groups, and possibly the courts. It is not easy being a successful lobbyist!

Lastly, the ATA lobbyist also targeted a legislator who more or less already agreed with the position many ATA members wanted. This is important to understand. A well-known study in 1963 about lobbying on American trade policy revealed for the first time something that cuts against popular perceptions of lobbyists: lobbyists tend to lobby their allies, those lawmakers already supporting them, not their enemies (Bauer, Pool, and Dexter 1963). This model shows why. To get their jobs done, lobbyists must lobby their friends, legislators whose positions are relatively close to those of many group members.