On November 2, the 21CCC hosted a discussion by Jessica C. Teets from Middlebury College on her and Max Grömping’s new book “Lobbying the Autocrat: The Dynamic of Policy Advocacy in Nondemocracies.” Her research stems from case studies from eight countries with varying levels of authoritarianism to analyze how advocacy groups lobby their governments for policy outcomes. Teets’ goal in the discussion was to demonstrate the importance of people in non-democracies when faced with the restrictions imposed by the regimes and how civilian organizations accomplish their policy goals.
Lobbying groups in autocratic regimes must adapt to significant challenges in order to achieve their policy outcomes. Challenges include speech repression, organizational difficulties, and state punishment. Advocacy groups have found niches and strategies to accomplish their goals in autocratic nations despite the challenges. Lobbying groups in authoritarian regimes have to find ways to accomplish policy goals differently than those in democratic regimes, which allows the people to play a significant role in policy outcomes.
Teets’ argument throughout the presentation is reinforced using a lifecycle framework for the advocacy groups in autocratic nations. Teets uses this framework to compare similarities and differences between democracies and autocracies directly. This framework comprises four stages: Mobilization and Maintenance, Competition and Cooperation, Advocacy Strategies, and Influence Outcome. Stage One discusses how authoritarian regimes have fewer advocacy groups. Emerging policy areas see similarities in the value of technical information and a lack of advocacy groups. Teets argues in Stage Two that non-democracies and autocracies are similar in ideological competition, but different in that autocracies tend to have a lower diversity of policy focus from advocacy groups. Stage Three of the framework finds that political resources are valued higher and sought locally in autocratic regimes and as evidenced by in nearly all eight case studies. Similar strategies from the case studies conclude that lobbying groups in both democracies and autocracies preferred public pressure as a primary strategy. Stage Four on influence outcomes concludes that both regimes must confide in expert opinion for specific policies. They differ from autocratic regimes and only have similar levels of outcomes in non-sensitive policy areas. Teets builds the theory from this framework behind how people lobby autocrats and provides that advocacy within autocratic regimes tends to be more diverse than democratic regimes in early stages than later stages.
Teets further provides three conditions that lobbyists have to deal with in authoritarian regimes that lobbyists in democratic regimes do not: Access to Policy Making, Information Demands, and Social Control. The first condition concludes that authoritarian regimes are hierarchical with fewer decision-makers, but the elites are more centralized within a singular governance branch rather than multiple branches in democracies. The second condition concludes that authoritarian regimes are more likely to make policy decisions without information, giving advocacy groups significant opportunities to fill that void. The third condition is that authoritarian regimes rely on repression to retain social control, which can limit or stop specific lobbying goals. She concludes that lobbyists in non-democracies must adapt to the regime’s trade-offs to accomplish solutions and engage in mutually beneficial agreements with officials for policy outcomes.
Some key takeaways from the Q&A were from Professor Shih and another audience member. Shih inquired about other conditions that cause change within the political opportunity structure than just elite division. Teets explained that external factors like economic crises can cause changes, but election losses can be a trigger, too, as seen in Malaysia. An audience member asked an excellent clarification question about the red lines that cannot be crossed: Are they legal or illegal? She clarifies using the inability of Chinese citizens to lobby for Taiwanese independence as red lines being policy areas that have limited or unavailable to lobbying groups due to the ideas being different from government ideology.
Teets’ research and talk concludes that the people play a prominent role in policy outcomes in autocratic nations in unique ways. These advocacy groups must carefully balance pushing for policy outcomes and maintaining peace with the state. The careful nature of advocacy groups can be seen in a four-stage framework, and their operations force them to fall within the three conditions set upon them by the state. The framework further demonstrates how lobbying groups in democracies and autocracies have different foundations but similarities as they grow. The framework and conditions, along with the case studies and Teets’ synopsis of her research, point towards the importance of individual groups in non-democracies for policy outcomes, when most research analysis of policy outcomes stems from the elite levels.
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