A Special Issue on Quiet Politics and Business Power

The articles in this special issue – edited by Christian Lyhne Ibsen and Glenn Morgan – explore how business can shape politics under conditions of noisy or quiet political engagement. They build on Culpepper’s concept of quiet politics – the instrumental power that business has to shape policy when issues are of low salience – and extend it to consider different strategies in the face of noisy politics.


The term fragmentation is also used in a different sense when it comes to computers, where it refers to the storing of files in a way that breaks them up. Its opposite is defragmentation, which brings the files back together.

In the articles in this issue, scholars examine a wide range of strategies and contexts for keeping politics quiet. They offer insights that can help us better understand the limits and dynamics of business power, which are shaped by the nature of the business elite and its relation to the wider political economy.

For example, in the article by Ibsen, Ellersgaard, and Larsen on Denmark, they show how a cross-class alliance of employers’ and trade unions from key industries dominated the sphere of quiet politics through their agreement on managing wage growth. Those excluded from these agreements may feel frustrated and seek to regain leverage through noisy politics. But the authors warn that their acquiescence risks undermining the core actors’ bargains and creating more instability.


Salience is the degree to which an issue is noticeable, perceptible, or present. In a political context, salience can affect the extent to which an issue is debated and the nature of its politics.

The articles in this special issue illustrate how a business’s ability to keep policy issues quiet is affected by the extent to which an issue gains or loses salience. They also demonstrate that the extent to which a business can maintain a sphere of quiet politics is related to its power and the structure of its networks, which vary across types of capitalism.

For example, the article on Switzerland by Mach, David, and Ginalski shows how a strong unified voice for business and a focus on economic issues can enable Swiss business to avoid the noisy politics of referenda. This enabled it to retain its privileged position in the global FDI growth regime while remaining insulated from nationalist opposition and anti-immigration concerns.


Pepper Culpepper’s seminal work on quiet politics and business power has revitalized the study of when and how business shapes policy in ways that evade public and political scrutiny. This special issue takes his analysis forward in a range of ways that address the challenges presented by the rise of noisy politics associated with new strident forms of populism.

The articles in this collection show that strategies for keeping issues quiet can be undermined by a wide variety of factors including scandals, broader crises, and the mobilisation of losers outside the sphere of quiet politics. These losers can seek to regain leverage by dragging the issue into the realm of noisy politics.

Even when this is successful, those inside the sphere of quiet politics can still lose leverage by having their position weakened by the presence of a unified and strong opposition to the policy agenda they support. This can create an opening for business to use rhetoric of establishment conspiracies and populism to challenge the actors it has worked with in its sphere of quiet politics.


The articles in this special issue challenge conventional ideas about the limits of quiet politics and business power. By analyzing a range of strategies in action, they show that salience is not a fixed property of policy issues, but is socially constructed through agenda-setting power and bottom-up mobilization. They also reveal that quiet politics may persist even in the face of noisy politics. For example, the article by Ibsen, Ellersgaard, and Larsen on Denmark shows that despite political elite breakdown over bank reform, business continued to shape banking policy through a negotiated tripartite agreement.

Pepper Culpepper is Blavatnik Professor of Government and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and European University Institute, and co-author of Quiet Politics and Business Power (Cambridge University Press 2011). This article was adapted from his contribution to this volume. His work explores the intersection between capitalism and democracy, both in politics and in policymaking. His current research examines the effects of business interest group strategies on policies involving corporate governance, labor markets, and social protections.

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