Features of Decision Making in a Political System

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The changing role of law and the need to relate with a transforming society and its citizens has led to a demand on decision making in political systems (Bijsterveld 2010). Due to the variance in the decision making of these systems, interest groups carry out their public affairs (PA) activities in a plethora of ways (Baumgartner 2007) as features such as type of political system, structure, accountability, dependency on interest groups, etcetera influence PA practices. This stems from the fact that issues that are significant in one political system might not be as significant in another (Lowery, Poppelaars and Berkhout 2008). Ljiphart (1999) has identified two basic types of decision making in political systems – Majoritarian; examples are the United States of America (US), Nigeria, Sweden, France, etcetera and Consensual; examples are European Union (EU), Belgium, Netherlands and Germany. This essay seeks to focus on how PA can be influenced by the different features in political systems by comparing these institutions using the EU as an example of a consensual system, and the US for the majoritarian system.


Majoritarian systems are federalist democracies where policy making is divided among different authorities. Government is by the majority and follows after the desires of the majority (Woll 2006). It is characterized by “exclusivity, adversarial politics and is highly competitive”, while the consensual system is a corporatist government by diverse representatives of the people which is characterized by “inclusiveness, bargaining and compromising” in order to influence policies (Ljipart 1999 p.2). Lobbyists in the majoritarian systems have the tendency of becoming more autonomous and self limiting as their activities are geared towards influencing the private offices of government officials and ministries (Lowery, Poppelaars and Berkhout 2008), while lobbyists in the EU will build broadly based alliances with other interest groups to lobby effectively.

The structure of the political system is a feature that influences PA practices. The EU has a multilevel structure which creates multiple access points for policy influence (Lowery, Poppelaars and Berkhout 2008) as lobbyists have to know what stage the decision making is at and seek access at different levels in the political process in order to impact policy decisions (Benz 2006). The issues discussed determine the venue as lobbyists can choose to go through any of the EU institutions at the supranational level or influence policies through the national level (Baumgartner 2007). The structure of the US system is more partisan as one political party gets majority vote. This creates limited access points for policy influence as interest groups are constantly competing for scarce resources. Lobbying is usually done geographically as power is shared in factions. Interest groups are therefore drawn to the venue that is more receptive to their opinions and are less concerned about the technicalities of the decision making process (Baumgartner 2007).

The nature of politics has also been identified as a feature of decision making that affects PA (Mahoney 2008). The US politics is played in such as way that the winner takes all and the loser gets nothing (Ljiphart 1999). The extent of policy influence therefore depends on who gets to the dominant executive first as politics is more adversarial (Greenwood 2007). Interest groups in the US employ more stringent and aggressive means to influence politicians’ decisions such as providing financial incentives for political campaigns (Broschied and Coen 2003), grass root politics, threats (Mahoney 2008) and mobilizing prospective voters. This makes them more fragmented and dependent on both long to short term competitive relationships when dealing with other interest groups...
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