Grassroots Mobilization in the Digital Age: Interest Group Response to Supreme Court Nominees

By Vining, Richard L. | Political Research Quarterly, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Grassroots Mobilization in the Digital Age: Interest Group Response to Supreme Court Nominees


Vining, Richard L., Political Research Quarterly


Abstract

This study examines how ten interest groups used electronic mail to mobilize their supporters in response to the Supreme Court nominations of John G. Roberts, Jr., Harriet Miers, and Samuel A. Alito, Jr. The effects of group characteristics and goals, the dynamics of the confirmation process, and prior behavior are evaluated. Logit results reveal that group traits and preferences influence the likelihood of requests for action and donations. Funding requests were also conditioned by the stage of the process. The findings show that interest groups use Supreme Court turnover as an opportunity for political advocacy and organizational maintenance.

Keywords

grassroots, interest groups, Internet, lobbying, nominations, Supreme Court

The influence of interest groups on American politics is widely recognized. Interest groups lobby elites, participate in campaigns, initiate and support litigation, draft legislation, and influence popular and elite opinion. Organized interests also take part in the Supreme Court confirmation process, and have done so regularly since at least the 1980s (Epstein and Segal 2005). Pressure groups aspire both to advocate their policy goals and to sustain themselves. One technique used to achieve these objectives is the mobilization of their supporters. The constituents of an interest group can promote its mission and supply the resources necessary to maintain the group. How, when, and to what end interest groups mobilize their constituents, especially in response to salient events or issues, may determine whether they accomplish their objectives. I determine how a set of interest groups used online communication to achieve their goals in response to the Supreme Court nominations of President George W. Bush.

Technological advances have increased the ability of interest groups to contact their constituents in response to salient political issues. Just as interest groups adopted the use of direct mail in the past (Godwin 1988), electronic mail (e-mail) is now an important means to mobilize their supporters. Despite the proliferation of online communication, scholars know little about its use by interest groups.1 E-mail facilitates the pursuit of the advocacy and organizational maintenance goals of pressure groups in response to political opportunities, and groups may be strategic in choosing what to ask of their supporters and when to do so. A Supreme Court vacancy is an opportunity to request mobilization because the confirmation process is highly salient, limited in duration, and allows only two outcomes-the confirmation of a new justice or failure of a nomination.

In this article I determine how interest groups mobilize their grassroots supporters in the digital age by examining the e-mail messages sent by ten groups to their supporters during the Supreme Court confirmation processes of Judge John G. Roberts, Jr., of the D.C. Circuit, White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers, and Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr., of the Third Circuit in 2005-2006. The behavior of these organizations should be representative of the larger population of interest groups active in the Supreme Court confirmation process. The e-mail messages examined reveal groups' lobbying strategies and indicate when and to what end they mobilized their constituents. The content of e-mail communications is examined to analyze the use of two tactics: (1) appeals for supporters to act and (2) requests for donations. I argue that these tactics facilitate groups' advocacy activities and organizational maintenance, respectively, and that interest groups use each strategically (and differently).

This study adds to knowledge of both pressure group activities and federal judicial appointments and goes beyond traditional methods of communication (e.g., direct mail, canvassing, telephone calls) to examine use of e-mail. It also facilitates an examination of interest group behavior while holding the dominant issue constant over a specific time period. …

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