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Walker: The origins and maintenance of interest groups in America

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Walker. 1983. The origins and maintenance of interest groups in America. APSR (1983):390-406.

Main Point

Walker claims to prove a great deal about the origin and maintenance of interest groups, though he in fact demonstrates almost nothing. Main claim: Interest groups arise and persist only according to their ability to secure funds from outside their membership. "The key to success in these efforts usually is the ability of group organizers to secure both start-up funds and reliable sources of continuing financial support from patrons of political action" (403).

Data

A survey of 913 interest groups. It's not clear exactly what groups he's surveying. He gives a long list of types of groups that he excludes (p391-2), and it's hard to think of what might be left.

Typology

Rather than use a non-theoretical typology (e.g. grouping interest groups according to their policy area), he groups them based on two criteria. First, is it an occupational/industry group, or is its membership open to anyone ("citizen groups" based on purposive goals)? Second, if it is an occupational group, is it a for-profit lobby, non-profit, or mixed?

Comments and Criticisms

  1. He reviews the methods that Olson says groups can use to promote membership (e.g. selective incentives, coercion, etc.). For each one, he points out that very few groups use that method, therefore Olson must be wrong. But there's a logical flaw here. What he should have told us is how many groups use none of those methods, rather than implying that most use none simply because each particular technique is rarely used (see p 396-7).
  2. He claims that recently-established groups are more likely to have had outside funding (a "patron") when starting up than older groups. He makes this conclusion by comparing currently-existing groups that answered his survey. But there's a survival threat: Of all the groups that were established before WWII, a smaller portion existed in 1983 than in 1945. Thus, he oversampled recently-established groups. Perhaps it is the older groups that had outside funding that ended up failing, and thus were excluded from his survey?
  3. He finds that citizen groups (non-occupational) get most of their funding from individual gifts. But he talks about it as if there is only one individual (the patron), and as if this were "outside funding." It isn't. These are contributions from supporters. He is completely wrong to interpret this to mean that citizen groups have patrons that help them get started. (Table 3, also p400). In fact, Table 5 shows that citizen groups get most of their contributions from dues, gifts, publications, conferences, and other means--none of which is "outside funding."