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Title Public perceptions of interest groups: A conjoint analysis
Post date 11/29/2018
C1 Background and Explanation of Rationale

What explains public perceptions of interest groups? Information about which interest groups have access to the policy-making process, and/or the consequences of lobbying activities is scarce. Yet, most citizens consider interest groups are an important source of political inequality and regulatory inefficiency. However, whether individuals reject the basic notion of lobbying, or whether their perception depends on the specific attributes of the lobbying initiatives. For example, would individual’s willingness to support a political initiative if the promoter is a business association, say, as opposed to a citizen organization? And would more individuals perceive lobbying as a valuable input in the policy process if organizations were transparent and compliant with established procedures? And would their perceptions still hold when lobbyists promoted an issue against their personal preferences? The answers to these questions speak to the legitimacy of interest groups: to what extent can interest groups move public opinion by trying to have a positive reputation?

We argue that public perceptions of lobbying are typically multidimensional and entail a combination of attributes that characterize each political initiative and differentially affect public support. We use conjoint analysis to estimate individual preferences towards political initiatives. In particular, we test whether and to what extent public support for interest groups varies as a function of the specific design of the initiatives package. We do so by studying the trade-offs individuals make when choosing between pairs of initiatives that differ on a set of attributes. We focus on the type of interest groups promoting the initiative—NGOs, business associations, trade unions and citizen groups-, the practices they employ to get access to the decision-making process –contact, media campaign, protest-, their position on the issues that people consider important, their scope –agenda, technical influence, directional influence-, and their levels of transparency and conformity to standing procedures.

C2 What are the hypotheses to be tested?

We expect citizen’s perceptions towards interest groups to be more positive for those groups that are more compliant with existing procedures, and when organizations are more transparent regarding their lobbying activities. In this case, citizen’s perceptions would be independent of the type of group, or the type of repertoire they use.

This expectation applies as well in cases where the initiatives are committed to fulfil major transformations as individuals may find partial transformations as an unacceptable compromise. Citizen’s perceptions towards interest groups are independent of the type of group, or the type of tactic they use, when citizen’s share the goals of interest groups and agree on issue positions.

We elaborate further on these hypotheses in the pre-analysis plan and present expectations for main and heterogenous effects on all attributes.

C3 How will these hypotheses be tested? *

We aim to identify the attributes of political initiatives that determine public perceptions of interest groups in Spain. Respondents choose between pairs of initiatives and express their level of support for each one (both declared and in practice). Based on this evidence we identify which attributes of the initiatives lead to greater support for interest groups. This design allows varying many attributes in order to study the marginal effect of each attribute on support towards the initiative as well as the interactions between them. These results are useful in assessing the theoretical approaches to attitudes towards interest groups. Initiatives conforming to the established procedures and those providing plentiful information on the details will expectedly be highly valued. However, these seemingly universal preferences posit interactions with respondents’ characteristics such as issue positions. Individuals may be willing to turn a blind eye to transparency when an issue they care about is at stake, or to prefer radical policy change exclusively for initiatives which they feel ideologically close too.

In short, we will focus on three causal quantities of interest: (1) The average marginal component effects will inform on the marginal effect of the attributes of an initiative averaged over the joint distribution of the remaining attributes. (2) The average component interaction effect that captures the extent in which the causal effect of one attribute may vary depending on the fixed value of another attribute. This allows to conclude about the relative weight individuals place on various attributes. (3) The average component interaction effect, which captures the extent in which the causal effect of one attribute may vary depending on a particular trait of the respondent. Based on this causal quantity we can analyse the heterogeneity of public preferences for political initiatives.

C4 Country Spain
C5 Scale (# of Units) 1000 respondents
C6 Was a power analysis conducted prior to data collection? No
C7 Has this research received Insitutional Review Board (IRB) or ethics committee approval? No
C8 IRB Number not provided by authors
C9 Date of IRB Approval not provided by authors
C10 Will the intervention be implemented by the researcher or a third party? Researchers
C11 Did any of the research team receive remuneration from the implementing agency for taking part in this research? No
C12 If relevant, is there an advance agreement with the implementation group that all results can be published? No
C13 JEL Classification(s) not provided by authors