Crossing the Intersection: Diversity in Interest Group Advocacy and Representation

Open Access
Marchetti, Kathleen Maeve
Graduate Program:
Political Science
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 10, 2013
Committee Members:
  • Marie Hojnacki, Dissertation Advisor
  • Marie Hojnacki, Committee Chair
  • Lee Ann Banaszak, Committee Chair
  • David Lowery, Committee Member
  • Carolyn Elizabeth Sachs, Committee Member
  • Forrest Scott Briscoe, Special Member
  • Interest groups
  • Representation
  • Gender and Politics
  • State Politics
In this dissertation, I explore the factors that motivate or prevent advocacy organizations from working on behalf of citizens who face multiple levels of disadvantage in society and politics. That is, I consider not only the type of political representation offered by advocacy organizations, but also the factors that influence organizations’ decisions to act on behalf of particular groups of citizens over others. Given that previous research has shown that people facing socio-economic disadvantage have lower political participation rates than their more economically or socially-advantaged counterparts, the question of whether all people’s voices are being heard in our democratic system remains unanswered. Advocacy organizations play an important role in the political process, especially those organizations advocating on behalf of individuals who face some type of social or political disadvantage. However, one cannot be sure that all advocacy organizations faithfully represent the wishes of people facing disadvantage on multiple socio-political dimensions. For example, a low-income woman who is disadvantaged by both gender and class could theoretically receive representation from either a women’s rights organization or a socio-economic justice group. What if neither organization advocates for issues affecting low-income women? How, then, would this woman’s interests be represented before government? What factors compel groups to take on multifaceted issue agendas and what factors discourage them from doing so? Who, exactly, is represented by advocacy organizations and why? I answer these questions using data I gathered through an original survey of over 200 advocacy organizations in 14 states across the U.S. I explore how state legislative and lobbying environments affect advocacy groups' policy agendas and also consider how factors internal to the organization (e.g. advocates' relationships with the people they represent) affect attention to the concerns of society's most disadvantaged individuals. I ultimately find that conservatism within state legislatures negatively affects organizations’ attention to the needs of marginalized people and that advocates’ relationships with legislators also have a consistently negative effect on this type of advocacy. In addition, several variables that occur within the organizations themselves also affect advocates’ propensity to engage in intersectional advocacy. These factors include advocates’ communication with supporters, the demographic composition of group supporter networks, and the type of advocacy group in question. I also find that state lobbying context has no effect on intersectional advocacy across all model specifications. Overall, this study expands current understanding of the conditions under which groups act as true representatives for those traditionally marginalized in, and by, the political process.