Resources and Agendas: Combining Walker’s Insights with New Data Sources to Chart a Path Ahead

Document Type


Publication Date



One of the central projects of Mobilizing Interest Groups in America was to chart the course that interests take to overcome the collective action problems inherent to founding and maintaining a group to be active in politics. Importantly, Walker found that interests’ pathways to organization and maintenance are dependent on the availability of a natural or existing membership base or the interests’ access to patronage or other resources. Put differently, an interest’s path to mobilization is largely a function of its “niche in the constituency and policy communities of which it is a part.” (Walker 1991, 9). This implies that not all pathways to organization are equally available to all interests. For example, citizens groups are disproportionately reliant on patronage from individual donors and foundations.

Not only are not all paths open to all interests, but, consequentially, the manner by which interest groups originate and maintain themselves structures the rest of a group’s actions and strategy: “the choice of political strategies is intimately connected to the group’s prospects for organizational maintenance” (Walker 1991, 106).f Groups that rely more on patronage, for example, are much more likely to pursue “outside” strategies of influence. Because Walker’s analysis implies that the nature of an interest itself may dictate both its path towards organizational representation and the subsequent strategies and tactics the organization ultimately pursues, he describes a system with serious inherent representational inequalities if some types of activities are more effective than others.

In this essay we explore how contemporary data sources and methods might be brought to bear in assessing these fundamental representational questions. We propose a forward-looking research agenda—using data and tools which have become available since Walker’s work—that incorporates his core insights regarding the political economy of interest representation. Using these tools can allow scholars to continue where Walker left off, examining both how interest origination affects political representation in American politics and how parties and elected officials may affect the landscape of interest representation by bolstering or undermining these organizational roots.




Palgrave Macmillan

Publication Information

Interest Groups & Advocacy