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American Business and Political Power

Public Opinion, Elections, and Democracy

Most people believe that large corporations wield enormous political power when they lobby for policies as a cohesive bloc. With this controversial book, Mark A. Smith sets conventional wisdom on its head. In a systematic analysis of postwar lawmaking, Smith reveals that business loses in legislative battles unless it has public backing. This surprising conclusion holds because the types of issues that lead businesses to band together—such as tax rates, air pollution, and product liability—also receive the most media attention. The ensuing debates give citizens the information they need to hold their representatives accountable and make elections a choice between contrasting policy programs.

Rather than succumbing to corporate America, Smith argues, representatives paradoxically become more responsive to their constituents when facing a united corporate front. Corporations gain the most influence over legislation when they work with organizations such as think tanks to shape Americans’ beliefs about what government should and should not do.

Table of Contents

List of Tables and Figures
1. Introduction
2. Business Unity and Its Consequences for Representative Democracy
3. Identifying Business Unity
4. A Portrait of Unifying Issues
5. Public Opinion, Elections, and Lawmaking
6. Overt Sources of Business Power
7. Structural Sources of Business Power
8. The Role of Business in Shaping Public Opinion
9. The Compatibility of Business Unity and Popular Sovereignty
Appendix A
Additional Coding Rules Used to Uncover Positions of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Appendix B
The Potential for Feedback between Policy and Opinion


APSA Political Organizations and Parties Section: Leon Epstein Award

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