NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Influence Of Liberal Lobby Groups

December 9, 1999

Contrary to the common view that the influence of liberals has waned in Washington, Jeffrey Berry says in a recent book, "The New Liberalism: the Rising Power of Citizen Groups," that liberal lobby groups in Washington have flourished. They rival business lobbies in power and are much better financed than conservative groups.

Berry measured the ability of liberal groups to influence the legislative agenda of Congress and gain favorable press coverage by investigating major congressional proposals in 1963, 1979 and 1991. By Berry's count, Congress considered -- exclusive of foreign policy issues -- 205 major issues in these years. He found that:

  • In 1963 about two-thirds of proposals were economic, whereas by 1991 roughly 70 percent involved "postmaterial" issues, such as wetlands conservation and family leave -- that are on the agenda of the left.
  • Liberal lobbies receive highly favorable press coverage -- representing almost half the quotes from lobbyists in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Congressional Quarterly.
  • By contrast, industry trade associations were quoted about 30 percent of the time, corporations just 1 percent.
  • In 1963, business lobbies won three victories for every defeat by liberal lobbies; by 1991, business won three victories for every two defeats.
  • And environmentalists won 10 out of 12 environmental issues in the Republican-controlled 104th Congress (1995-96).

Newsweek columnist Robert J. Samuelson says the reason liberal lobbies are so influential is that the Washington press corps shares their values and agenda. For instance, a 1995 poll of Washington reports found only 2 percent called themselves conservative, while 89 percent had voted for Clinton in 1992. And only 4 percent were Republicans, compared to 50 percent Democrats.

Source: Robert J. Samuelson, "The Stealth Power Brokers," Newsweek, December 13, 1999.


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