Wealthy Citizens Have More Clout in State Government, but Stricter Lobbying Rules Can Help Close the Gap, Baylor Study Finds

  • Lobbying
    (iStockphoto)
  • Lobbyist and Flavin
    (Courtesy photo)
Sept. 16, 2014

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WACO, Texas (Sept. 16, 2014) — State legislators are more attentive to wealthy citizens’ political opinions compared to poor citizens’ opinions when making policy decisions, but stricter regulations on professional lobbyists can help curb this trend and promote more equal political representation, according to a Baylor University study.

“Stricter lobbying laws are an important tool for ensuring that citizens’ opinions receive more equal consideration when elected officials make important policy decisions,” said researcher Patrick Flavin, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

The study, published in the journal American Politics Research, can be found online at Lobbying Regulations and Political Equality.

Flavin used public opinion survey data from the 2000, 2004 and 2008 National Annenberg Election Surveys and compared them to state policies to create a measure of how closely income and political influence relate within each state. He then ranked the states in terms of the equality of political representation. States in which rich and poor citizens’ opinions are represented relatively equally score high on the rankings, while states in which the lawmakers almost exclusively represent rich citizens’ opinions score low.

The top two states in terms of the equality of political representation are Montana at No. 1 and Minnesota at No. 2, with Alabama and Mississippi coming in at the low end, at No. 47 and No. 48 respectively. (Hawaii and Alaska were not included in the rankings because of a lack of public opinion survey data for those states.)

***(See below for state rankings for political equality.)

“One common explanation for why affluent citizens tend to be more successful at getting their opinions translated into policy is that industries that tend to share their opinions — such as finance and real estate — are well represented among professional lobbyists in Washington and statehouses across the nation,” Flavin said. “In contrast, disadvantaged citizens do not enjoy the same level of representation among professional lobbyists, and correspondingly exert less influence over the policy decisions made by elected officials.”

In light of this reality, Flavin investigated whether states that impose more restrictions on the activities of professional lobbyists tend to represent citizens’ opinions more equally. Specifically, he looked at the number of different groups required to register as lobbyists, the frequency of reporting requirements, the types of activities that are prohibited and disclosure requirements.

His statistical analysis revealed that states with more restrictions on professional lobbyists tend to be the most politically equal in terms of representing the political opinions of both the rich and the poor. Flavin explains that “unlike the federal government in Washington where one uniform set of laws governs lobbyists, the states vary, sometimes dramatically. Therefore, we can learn a lot about what types of laws and institutions promote greater political equality by focusing our attention on the states.”

Ranking States from Most Equal Political Representation to Least Equal

1. Montana

2. Minnesota

3. Oregon

4. South Dakota

5. Vermont

6. California

7. New Mexico

8. Michigan

9. Washington

10. Wisconsin

11. Ohio

12. Nebraska

13. Iowa

14. Pennsylania

15. West Virginia

16. Arizona

17. Missouri

18. Idaho

19. Rhode Island

20. New Jersey

21. Maine

22. Colorado

23. Illinois

24. Utah

25. Virginia

26. Florida

27. Massachusetts

28. Connecticut

29. Texas

30. Nevada

31. North Carolina

32. Kansas

33. Maryland

34. Kentucky

35. New York

36. Indiana

37. Louisiana

38. Tennessee

39. South Carolina

40. Delaware

41. North Dakota

42. New Hampshire

43. Arkansas

44. Oklahoma

45. Wyoming

46. Georgia

47. Alabama

48. Mississippi

*(Hawaii and Alaska were not included in the National Annenberg Election Surveys.)

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

ABOUT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES

The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 24 academic departments and 13 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines.

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