The Information Incentive
This study is grounded on the contention that public policy disputes in postindustrial democracies increasingly turn on scientific and technical issues, the presence of which challenges the public's capacity for understanding and influencing the course of government action ( Nelkin 1979). Can citizens really be expected to exercise informed influence over public policy when policy issues become complex and difficult ( Dahl 1985)? The urgency of this question is underscored particularly in those policy areas, such as the environment, in which there is growing public concern and active political involvement by citizens ( Enloe 1975).
In this context of complex policy, we argue that the dynamics of democratic political processes once more bring forward interest groups as one critical mechanism for pressing the public's concerns ( Milbrath 1984). By linking citizens to policy processes, interest groups are not only a vehicle for achieving political goals but they also may serve citizens in facilitating the acquisition, processing, and application of policy- relevant information. The analysis of interest groups often focuses on their exercise of political influence. In the context of contemporary policy complexity, however, the present study examines the possible important information transfer role interest groups might play. In this chapter, of particular interest is the role of information as an incentive to interest group membership, how that incentive interacts with purposive political incentives, and how the patterns of interaction among these incentives might differ in two democratic countries with historically distinct political cultures and differing institutional arrangements.