Mobilizing for Access: Interest Organizations and Development Policy in Mexico
While interest organizations in transitional democracies have the potential to improve the design and implementation of economic policies, their participation is often instead geared toward mobilizing electorally for a political party in exchange for patronage. This project investigates how organizations representing farmers and small-business owners in Mexico filter their members’ interests into demands for programmatic policies or distributive handouts and how these demands are translated into access to these two policymaking arenas. My findings are based on case studies carried out over 18 months of fieldwork, an original survey of economic interest organizations, and econometric analysis of state-level subsidy data acquired through public-information requests to the Mexican government. While existing research stresses the effect of poverty on demand for patronage, I identify two factors—collective-action capacity and political competition—that can supersede class pressures, permitting organizations to evade clientelistic linkages with political parties and garner effective policy voice.
First, collective-action capacity—the ability of organizations to independently recruit and mobilize members—frees organizations from pressure to enter into dependent linkages with political parties. While such linkages offer particularistic benefits that organization leaders can repurpose as selective benefits to spur collective action, they route organizations into the patronage trap, a self-reproducing cycle in which organizations become specialized for distributive demand making. These linkages convert leaders into electoral brokers and force organizations to forgo protest, lobbying, and other forms of political participation in favor of electoral mobilization, making them ill suited for programmatic demand making. I develop this argument using case studies of economic interest organizations in three Mexican states. Survey analysis of organizations in all Mexican states confirms that independent resource flows and the capacity to generate selective benefits—indicators of collective-action capacity—are positively associated with organizations’ breadth of mobilization strategies and ability to levy programmatic policy demands.
Second, the dynamics of electoral competition explain the degree to which ruling politicians grant organizations access to the programmatic and distributive policymaking arenas. In the presence of electoral competition, interest organizations can credibly threaten to support an opposition party if the ruling party fails to respond to their policy demands. Thus, electoral competition has two effects on organizational participation: First, it affords organizations leverage to pressure politicians for access to the exclusive programmatic policy arena, when state actors generally prefer to limit organizational participation to the distributive arena. Second, competition incentivizes ruling parties to incorporate organizations from their non-core constituencies (such as peasant organizations for a right-wing party or business organizations for a left-wing party) into policymaking. I test this theory by analyzing distribution data for state-level subsidies in the agriculture and small-business sectors across all 32 Mexican states, allowing me to exploit subnational variation in ruling parties and electoral competition.