Achieving Representation Through Racial Minority Interest Groups (RMIG) in the United States: Lobbying Activity in Legislative Politics
- Do, Nhat-Dang
- Advisor(s): Abrajano, Marisa;
- Kousser, Thaddeus
Racial minority interest groups, or what I refer to as RMIGs, are at the heart of Black, Latinx, and Asian political and social movements as channels to both secure resources and foster mobilization. These groups, which include the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), are organizations that lobby to influence policy for and on behalf of racial minorities. They act as mechanisms to unify individuals, provide insider access, and voice the grievances of historically marginalized groups. However, many scholars contend that the American lobbying system is biased towards and dominated by wealthy, elite interests. Relative to these traditional interest groups, RMIGs represent members with fewer financial resources to contribute to organizational lobbying efforts and are on the periphery of political power. From this perspective, RMIGs should have little or no influence on policymaking. Is this empirically the case? Are RMIGs excellent representatives of the folks they purport to represent?
I theorize that we cannot clearly understand RMIGs through the predominant explanations grounded in traditional interest group behavior. Instead, distinguishing advocacy groups along racial lines is essential. Doing so offers a sharper understanding of lobbying and representation because of the powerful impact of race and its longstanding salience in American politics. My conceptualization of RMIGs places race at the center of group goals, resources, and strategic actions, leading to behaviors and reactions distinctive from traditional lobbying. Using these ideas as a starting point and an original data set of over 250,000 California committee bill analyses from 1997 to 2018, I argue that the behavior of RMIGs is distinct and separate from other organized interests. I show that RMIGs are reliable representatives and successful modes for effectively representing marginalized racial minorities.
In Chapter 4, I find that RMIGs lobby on issues that affect their disadvantaged constituencies at higher rates when compared with the advantaged-subgroups in their racial group. Chapter 5 shows that RMIGs are just as active as a large segment of interest group organizations and that they participate in large and diverse coalitions more often than non-RMIGs. This chapter also shows that RMIGs tend to pass the bills they support at the same rates as their counterparts and kill bills at higher rates than non-RMIGs. These findings suggest a strategy of informational lobbying that centers on building large and diverse coalitions, which leverages the electoral fears of legislators to vote in line with RMIG preferences.
The last empirical chapter (Chapter 6) examines how influential RMIGs are in the legislative arena by showing that bills with large and diverse coalitions are more likely to pass out of the legislature. This finding explains how RMIGs can succeed in a system dominated by wealthy interests. Finally, I find that RMIG endorsements of bills and candidates influence the political choices of respondents. Together, I find that Lobbying through RMIGs is a pragmatic route for racial minorities to express political influence.