Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2020

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Political Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



My dissertation examines presidents' interactions with organized interests. Despite ample observable evidence that presidents and organized interests frequently interact, many scholarly studies of the presidency argue that these interactions are non-existent, infrequent, or inconsequential. I argue that presidents engage with organized interests as part of their coalition-building efforts, as they seek to secure organized interests' electoral and policy resources to advance their own goals. I further argue that both presidents and organized interests benefit from this engagement. I assess my arguments by evaluating three interrelated questions: with which organized interests do presidents engage?; how do presidents encourage the interests with which they engage to participate in their coalitions?; and how does presidents' engagement with organized interests help presidents achieve their goals?First, I consider with which organized interests presidents engage. I argue that presidents engage with interests who are most able and willing to contribute to their supportive coalitions: interests with large resource endowments and who are copartisans of the incumbent. To test these expectations, I utilize over 7 million White House visitor logs records from the Clinton, Obama, and Trump presidencies to identify instances in which presidents provided access to organized interests. I find that presidents are more likely to provide access to interests with higher levels of resources and to interests in industries aligned with the their party. Second, I explore how presidents encourage organized interests to participate in their coalitions. Though interests sometimes cooperate with presidents because of shared goals, presidents can further stimulate interests' effort by drawing on their unilateral powers to provide selective incentives. I argue that presidents are more likely to allocate incentives to organized interests with whom they engage. Focusing on presidents' appointments to advisory committees, I find that presidents are more likely to provide appointments to organized interests to whom they previously provided White House access. Third, I examine whether presidents' engagement with organized interests advances their goals. In many cases, such as lobbying members of Congress, organized interests' activity with regard to presidents' initiatives is hard to observe. In light of this challenge, I focus on a publicly observable activity in which presidents encourage organized interests to engage--issuing public endorsements presidents' policies. I posit that these endorsements improve support for presidents' policies by serving as source cues and indicators of policies' legitimacy to the general public. Drawing on an original survey experiment, I find that organized interests' endorsements of a trade agreement negotiated by President Trump increases public support for the policy, but that the effects of these endorsements are concentrated among the president's non-copartisans. This dissertation offers theoretical contributions to several different areas of study in American politics and highlights substantive implications of presidents' interactions with organized interests. I not only help start to bridge the scholarly gap between the presidency and organized interests, but also demonstrate how presidents use their powers to provide representation to select subgroups of the political system, rather than the country as a whole, in a context outside of electoral politics. In addition, whereas most studies of organized interests' influence on the policy process focus on Congress, I highlight the pathways by which organized interests enjoy influence through the executive branch and consider how the president perpetuates inequality of political voice among the universe of interests in society.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Andrew J. Reeves

Committee Members

Steven S. Smith, Daniel M. Butler, Betsy Sinclair, Matt Gabel,