The Life Cycle of Voluntary Associations in the United States, 1972-2001

Open Access
Bevan, Shaun
Graduate Program:
Political Science
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
April 29, 2011
Committee Members:
  • David Lowery, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • David Lowery, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Frank Baumgartner, Committee Member
  • Suzanna Linn, Committee Member
  • Christopher Jon Zorn, Committee Member
  • John David Mccarthy, Committee Member
  • Interest Groups
  • Representation
  • Organizational Ecology
  • Time Series
  • Associations
Groups are one of the primary means for the public to engage government and one of the most important. Elections may be the most studied means of representation in democratic systems, but groups are able to provide more information concerning public preferences in a form that is also accessible to government. After all, government is faced with a state of information abundance and groups help filter that information. It is little wonder then that so much literature focuses on group influence. However, the literature on groups misses a crucial element of group influence the context that it occurs in. Group populations can take many different types of actions in order to influence government, but how those actions are perceived and received by government depends on the traits of group populations. The age of the group system, its size and how entrenched groups are with government have unique effects on group representation. For example, issues with a large population of groups experience more competition between interests, but also generally have a larger audience in government given the ties between groups and policy-making. Smaller group communities may be less competitive, but small communities also have fewer opportunities for representation. The traits of groups affect how they interact with government, but the traits of group populations are severely understudied in political science. Specifically research aimed at explaining group population traits are too few. Furthermore, due to data limitations the generalizability and even the importance of this work have been called into question. This dissertation focuses on those questions. Namely what affects the traits of group populations and more specifically how the political environment affects group traits? This is accomplished by using new data on national level voluntary associations in the United States from 1972-2001 from the Encyclopedia of Associations Project. This work compliments the existing literature on group traits by making it more generalizable and further ads to it with insights from several other group literatures. The most significant of these additions is a greater focus on ecological processes namely the interdependence of group traits and the persistent nature of these traits driven by the behavior of entrepreneurs. While previous work on interest group ecology has gone a long way in the study of this important question data limitations have prevented the findings of this work to be as comprehensive as possible. The results of the various statistical analyses contained in this dissertation suggest that group population traits follow ecological processes with highly persistent tendencies and high levels of interdependence amongst traits. This dissertation also finds that individual group characteristics partially those associated with an ability to influence government positively affect survival and are related to increased group formations and decreased failures. Finally, the analyses suggest that many of the traits of group populations are dependent on the political environment, but that the environment filters through the group system through different traits. In other words, some environmental factors affect group formation, while others affect group failure. These findings suggest several things concerning groups and group representation. In particular they demonstrate that maintenance of the status quo and a bias towards higher resource interests that are engaged with government start with group population traits themselves. In total this dissertation offers a broad range of findings concerning the context of group representation and suggests that further work is necessary to do the discipline’s continued interest in group influence justice in the future.