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Corporate Political Power and U.S. Foreign Policy, 1981–2002: The Role of the Policy-Planning Network

>> Read article published in Theory and Society journal


Recent empirical work has offered strong support for ‘biased pluralism’ and ‘economic elite’ accounts of political power in the United States, according a central role to ‘business interest groups’ as a mechanism through which corporate influence is exerted. Here, we propose an additional channel of influence for corporate interests: the ‘policy-planning network,’ consisting of corporate-dominated foundations, think tanks, and elite policy-discussion groups. To evaluate this assertion, we consider one key policy-discussion group, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). We first briefly review the origins of this organization and then review earlier findings on its influence. We then code CFR policy preferences on 295 foreign policy issues during the 1981–2002 period. In logistic regression analyses, we find that the preferences of more affluent citizens and the CFR were positive, statistically significant predictors of foreign policy outcomes while business interest group preferences were not. These findings are discussed with a consideration of the patterns of CFR ‘successes’ and ‘failures’ for the issues in our dataset. Although a full demonstration of a causal connection between corporate interests, the policy-planning network and policy outcomes requires further research, we conclude that this has been shown to be a plausible mechanism through which corporate interests are represented and that ‘biased pluralism’ researchers should include it in their future investigations.

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