Projet de recherche : Lobbying, litigation and direct democracy: Comparing advocacy strategies of interest groups in Switzerland and California - Frédéric Varone

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Lobbying, litigation and direct democracy


Lobbying, litigation and direct democracy: Comparing advocacy strategies of interest groups in Switzerland and California

A project funded by the SNF (149689) led by Professor Frédéric Varone (main applicant) with Professor Mach André (Institut d'études politiques et internationales, Université de Lausanne)

With: Steven Eichenberger and Charlotte Jourdain

From November 2013 to October 2016



In advanced democracies, interest groups are key actors of the policymaking process. To directly influence a public policy, an interest group (IG) has to gain access to an institutional venue in which binding policy decisions are made (i.e. constitutional amendments, laws, regulatory decisions, courts rulings). IGs thus strategically shop between different institutional venues. An IG can lobby the Parliament and/or the Executive; it can also bring a case to a Judicial Court; or it can launch a Popular Initiative or a Referendum, if the political system provides for these Direct Democracy instruments. Indirectly, an IG can also address policy issues in arenas in which no binding decisions are made: for example, it can participate in protest activities or be present in the media. Furthermore, an IG can follow one specific strategy and thus target one institutional venue or arena. Or, on the contrary, it can combine several political activities, institutional venues and arenas. Finally, an IG can work alone or join an ad hoc issue coalition. The present research project focuses specifically on the venue shopping strategies of IGs. The general research question is: Where (venue), how (intensity) and with whom (coalition) do interest groups try to influence public policies? Empirically, the project compares the concrete choices made by IGs in different policy domains and in two political systems (i.e. Switzerland and California) over the last two decades. To analyze why an IG chooses to access a specific (combination of) institutional venue(s) as “policy battleground”, rather than another, we define three dependent variables: the presence of an IG within an institutional venue (here: Parliament, Executive, Courts and Direct Democracy), the intensity of its political activities within this specific institutional venue and, its participation to an ad hoc issue coalition. We then look at three categories of independent variables to explain these three dependent variables: the characteristics of the interest group (e.g. group type, goals, membership, resources), the characteristics of the policy issues at stake (e.g. policy type, policy stage, issue saliency, level of opposition), and the institutional context and rules regulating the formal access to the different institutional venues (e.g. requirements to qualify for a constitutional initiative, to register as a parliamentary lobbyist, to participate to rule-making procedures, etc.). For each independent variable we formulate explicit research hypotheses that capitalize on previous international research. Our test of these research hypotheses is based on the study of ten policymaking processes, which concern policy issues raised in similar ways in Switzerland and California during the last two decades (e.g. same-sex marriage, stem cell research, immigrants’ rights, renewable energies). The number of case studies is 20 (i.e. 10 issues X 2 political systems). For each policy process, we undertake a documentary analysis to reconstruct the chronology and binding decisions of the issue. We identify all institutional venues and IGs that have formally been involved in the policymaking process. We then send an online survey to the identified IGs and conduct semi-directed interviews with selected IGs representatives. The statistical analysis of the survey, interview and documentary data eventually allows for the systematic comparison of IGs’ strategies between groups, policy domains and political systems.


2 novembre 2015