Interest group mobilization and lobbying patterns in Britain: a newspaper analysis

Patrick Bernhagen, Brett Trani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How do organized interests mobilize around governmental policy initiatives? Do they attempt to counter the lobbying efforts of their competitors or opponents, or do they seek out niches with little competition from countervailing interests? Are any issue niches utilized more or less equally by different kinds of advocates, or are business lobbyists more prominent here than other groups? And how are these mobilization patterns reflected in the news media? Research into the mobilization of organized interests around public policy to date has mainly focused on the United States (US). Little is still known empirically about the mobilization patterns of organized interests in the context of actual policy issues in other countries. This article addresses this imbalance by analysing newspaper reports on the reported political involvement of organized interests in the context of over 1000 policy proposals advanced by United Kingdom (UK) governments between 2001 and 2007. The goal is twofold: first, to describe and evaluate a new data set for the analysis of lobbying activities in British politics, and second, to confront established claims, mainly developed within the US context, about interest group mobilization. On the basis of an archival search of seven major UK broadsheets, the project focuses on 183 governmental policy proposals for which one or more societal actors are mentioned in a newspaper article. The actors are coded according to established classification schemes, allowing an exploration of their distribution across the policy proposals. The findings show, first, that in the overwhelming majority of newspaper reporting on new governmental policy plans, there are no reports of related interest group activity, suggesting that most policy proposals are not visibly contested. Second, the possible biases that may result from journalists filtering the appearance of different types of lobbyists seem to be limited. Third, in a very small number of cases, two or more groups are reported as lobbying around an issue. This confirms earlier findings from US research that niche lobbying is the most frequently observed mobilization pattern. In these issue niches, lobbyists are more likely to be non-business actors than in the context of more visibly contested proposals. Thus, contrary to findings from the US context, business actors do not appear to dominate niche issues in the UK. In British newspapers, it is non-business groups rather than business actors that are most likely to make an appearance in the context of issue niches. Newspaper reporting on interest group mobilization around UK policy issues closely resembles patterns of issue niches found in the US. By contrast, the difference in levels of business dominance in issue niches between these two political systems points to differences in the policy process between the UK and US, as well as to possible selection biases of the different sampling strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-66
Number of pages19
JournalInterest Groups & Advocacy
Issue number1
Early online date27 Mar 2012
Publication statusPublished - May 2012


  • lobbying
  • newspaper coverage
  • bias
  • US/UK
  • issue niches
  • business representation


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