American Business and Political Power: Public Opinion, Elections, and Democracy

University of Chicago Press, 26 . 2010 . - 245 .
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 togethersuch as tax rates, air pollution, and product liabilityalso 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.

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TWO Business Unity and Its Consequences for Representative Democracy
THREE Identifying Business Unity
FOUR A Portrait of Unifying Issues
FIVE Public Opinion Elections and Lawmaking
SIX Overt Sources of Business Power
SEVEN Structural Sources of Business Power
EIGHT The Role of Business in Shaping Public Opinion
NINE The Compatibility of Business Unity and Popular Sovereignty
APPENDIX A Additional Coding Rules Used to Uncover Positions of the US Chamber of Commerce
APPENDIX B The Potential for Feedback between Policy and Opinion


168 - A may exercise power over B by getting him to do what he does not want to do, but he also exercises power over him by influencing, shaping or determining his very...
8 - Smith finds that unity does not increase the direct influence of business and reduce democratic control by the citizenry. Instead, unity coincides with the opposite results. Issues marked by a common business position are precisely those for which government decisions are affected most strongly by election outcomes and the responsiveness of officeholders to their constituents.
41 - All subjects considered or acted upon by this chamber shall be national in character, timely in importance, and general in application to business and industry.
172 - I know of nothing more crucial than to come to the aid of the intellectuals and writers who are fighting on my side A powerful counterintelligentsia can be organized to challenge our ruling [liberal] opinion makers ... an audience awaits its [conservative] views." So it did. Simon urged corporate America to use its "public affairs...
56 - ... we do our job and the government messes things up.') Businessmen share a deep skepticism about the ability of government to do anything efficiently, and they believe that the achievement of society's objectives whenever possible is best left in their hands. The reason for government inefficiency, businessmen invariably insist, is that public decisions are made without the discipline of the marketplace.


Mark A. Smith is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Washington.