Link: Advocacy and Astroturfing
Yesterday, the Monkey Cage ran an interesting interview with sociologist Edward Walker, the author of Grassroots for Hire: Public Affairs Consultants in American Democracy. His book details efforts like Wal-Mart’s 2005 Working Families for Wal-Mart campaign, which seemed to reflect spontaneous support for the retailer’s move into urban markets but were organized by hired consultants.
Some interesting nuggets from Walker’s Q&A:Corporate grassroots organizing often follows “the script of citizen advocacy: locating sources of public support, studying the opposition, searching out strategic alliances and points of political leverage, and trying to frame their arguments persuasively.” But, Walker noted, “consultants usually have better data” as well as more money.
Astroturfing comes with “some big risks.” The more effective efforts use “arms-length sources of support who have an independent interest in the cause,” and decide to be transparent about funding sources.
Walker said that the potential problem these kinds of campaigns raise for American democracy come through the fact that they try to mobilize those citizens already most likely to turn out to support political activity. Such people “are already overrepresented in the political process, so selectively mobilizing these groups is amplifying inequalities in participation and representation.”
Walker found that it wasn’t just corporations that hired consultants or PR firms to do grassroots organizing work: government agencies do, too — particularly on the local level.