Responding to whom? An experimental study of the dynamics of responsiveness to interest groups and the public


Anne Rasmussen, King's College London
Anne Rasmussen, King’s College London
Simon Otjes, Leiden University
Simon Otjes, Leiden University








Are representatives responsive to citizens and interest groups? Anne Rasmussen and Simon Otjes argue in their innovative study that politicians have an incentive to respond to voters’ interests but not to policy preferences of all interest groups. Instead, politicians should prioritize interest groups that are ideologically close to them as a result of a higher sense of identification and agreement on specific policy issues. Additionally, politicians might attempt to enhance chances for re-election when reacting to information of ideologically close interest groups that probably represent – at least to some extent – the policy positions of the party’s constituents. Based on a comprehensive experimental design with around 2000 elected representatives at the local, regional and national level in Denmark and the Netherlands, they show that politicians indeed tend to be sensitive towards public opinion when stating their intended voting behavior but not necessarily to interest groups. In line with their expectations, interest groups can only influence politicians’ voting intention if they are ideologically close to them. While it is good news for democracy that public opinion is more important to politicians’ decision-making than interest groups, the study also demonstrates that interest groups have the potential to convince like-minded politicians to adopt policies that diverge from those of voters.