The Vulnerability Thesis

Interest Group Influence and Institutional Design

Lorelei Moosbrugger

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Where politics is dominated by two large parties, as in the United States, politicians should be relatively immune to the influence of small groups. Yet narrow interest groups often win private benefits against majority preferences and at great public expense. Why? The “vulnerability thesis” is that the electoral system is largely to blame, making politicians in two-party systems more vulnerable to interest group demands than politicians in multiparty systems. Political scientist Lorelei Moosbrugger ranks democracies on a continuum of political vulnerability and tests the thesis by examining agrochemical policy in Austria, Britain, Germany, Sweden, and the European Union.

Lorelei Moosbrugger is an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"Highly original and well designed."—Bingham Powell, author of Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions

"The project is very attractive in its controversial 'vulnerability' theory proposal, which should be of very wide interest to scholars, teachers and students." Bingham Powell, author of Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions (Yale 2000)

"an important work in both the general field of institutional design and in the subfields of interest group studies and policy analyses" Bingham Powell, author of Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions (Yale 2000)

"The Vulnerability Thesis presents a simple, elegant, original, and counterintuitive theory of how electoral and institutional features affect the relative influence powerful interest groups in different political systems.  The theory is tested with carefully designed case studies of environmental policies regarding the agricultural sector.  Political scientists who think that “responsible parties” are best able to impose concentrated costs to achieve public goods will have to reconsider." Gary Jacobson, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego

"An outstanding piece of scholarly work that makes important theoretical and practical contributions to the question of democratic accountability. The conventional wisdom is that majoritarian elections that allow voters to “throw the rascals out” will generate
incentives for governments to make policies that benefit a majority of citizens. However, Moosbrugger argues that majoritarian elections
also make decision-makers vulnerable to interest group pressures, and these pressures are likely to be stronger and more sustained than the pressure that voters can exert. The contrary result, therefore, is that the most accountable governments often fail to protect the public interest because they face strong incentives to make policies that benefit interest groups, not voters.  This hypothesis is the complete antithesis of the conventional wisdom, and it is fully supported by her empirical evidence.  An eye-opener for everyone interested in public policy!"—Arend Lijphart, author of Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries, published by Yale University Press in 1999, with a second, updated edition scheduled for publication in 2012 and Thinking About Democracy: Power Sharing and Majority Rule in Theory and Practice (London: Routledge, 2008).

ISBN: 9780300166798
Publication Date: June 19, 2012
208 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4