How Generalist Interest Organizations Choose Issues: Testing Implications of Niche Theory

Open Access
Monahan, Rose Katherine
Area of Honors:
Political Science
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • David Lynn Lowery, Thesis Supervisor
  • Michael Barth Berkman, Honors Advisor
  • niche theory
  • population ecology
  • interest groups
  • generalist interest groups
  • old bulls
  • the Sierra Club
  • Keystone XL pipeline
Objective. In this article, I employ niche theory, as applied to interest group organizations, to help explain how generalist interest organizations choose issues on which to lobby. A core element to niche theory is issue partitioning, which implies two contrasting hypotheses. In the first issue partitioning scenario, as the interest group community becomes more dense, generalist interest organizations are likely to allow other, more narrowly focused groups to take the lead on issues. Here, generalists are passive in determining which issues to lobby. In the second scenario, generalist organizations are more likely to exert their presence in the face of more competition, taking an active role in determining their issues of choice. Methods. I test both hypotheses through survey information collected from state chapters of the Sierra Club concerning their involvement (or non-involvement) with the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project. Results. Survey responses from Sierra Club state chapters support the passive partitioning hypothesis, suggesting that a higher density interest group community lessens the likelihood of an old bull taking on an issue.