Environment versus development: group conflicts and cues
Legislators who wish to be responsive to voters' environmental opinions face a dilemma. On the one hand they can easily satisfy voters who believe that environmental issues are serious by expressing vocal, visible protestations of concern. After nearly a decade of media specials and other events that have revealed one environmental insult after another, it is not surprising that most voters think these problems are serious, nor that legislators, who are especially sensitive to the emergence of popular issues, agree with constituents. Little difficulty is likely to come to legislators making purely symbolic statements that require no specific actions.
On the other hand, such symbolic legislative statements do not make real conflicts between environmental and other values vanish. More difficult, politically risk-ridden decisions still must be made, and here conflicting opinions do exist among constituents. The alternatives pursued have real consequences to important interests who stand to gain and lose.
Where issues are difficult and potentially costly, legislators are especially likely to be attentive to the cues which help them appreciate the stakes involved. Because interest groups reflect such differences of opinion better than any other political mechanism, they are likely to be the dominant source of information to legislators about the constituency risks of the positions they may take on environmental issues. The extent of a group's access to the legislature determines its influence.