Achieving access: Groups, processes, and American political development

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Kristi Andersen


Interest groups, Public policy, Small business, Political development

Subject Categories

Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Though prominent, interest groups have an unsettled history in American politics. Interest group access is marked by uncertainty and contingency and even the most powerful interests have seen their fortunes fluctuate. Through four case studies of environmental and small business organizations, I first argue that interest group access is conditioned by three sets of institutional structures. To achieve access, groups must develop the organizational capacity to engage in political action, they must recruit allies in government, and relevant policy institutions must be configured to allow their participation. Through extensive histories of the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the National Small Business Men's Association, spanning at times the entire twentieth century, I demonstrate the importance of these institutional parameters for the respective successes and failures of the groups under study.

Second, the modern development of small business and environmental interest groups occurred within the context of the emergence of regulatory politics in the 1970s. For a generation now, the political parties have diverged significantly over how and to what extent regulatory institutions should enforce pollution laws, workplace safety rules, and other broad social goals. The case studies illuminate this important issue by examining the ways in which interest groups have mobilized in response. The battle over regulatory politics has been, largely defined by interest group conflict and illuminated by the institutional universe in which the debate has occurred.


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