This paper seeks to explore the meaning of the stakeholder concept in politics, using theories drawn from the fields of management, political science and public relations. In particular, the theory of stakeholder identification and salience is to be used as a framework.
This qualitative study involved in‐depth interviews with 23 politicians and political advisers in Western Australia and was conducted in the style of a grounded theory investigation.
The results indicate that in politics, as in business, controversy and confusion continue to surround the stakeholder concept. Participants thought “stakeholder” should imply possession of a legitimate interest in an issue, but did not believe this was always the case. There is a gulf between how politicians think stakeholder status should be accorded in principle and what happens in reality. In practice, power seems to play a far greater role than legitimacy in determining stakeholder salience among political decision‐makers.
Although the study focuses on a single jurisdiction (Western Australia), there are implications for policy development in other contemporary democracies. Excluding or marginalising stakeholders with a legitimate right to be heard contributes to the phenomenon known as “democratic deficit”, whereby citizens feel alienated from the political process.
This is one of the few empirical studies to investigate the application of stakeholder theory – as developed in the management literature – to politics. It integrates theories from different disciplines of direct relevance to what should be the primary focus of public relations – the management of stakeholder relationships.
de Bussy, N.M. and Kelly, L. (2010), "Stakeholders, politics and power: Towards an understanding of stakeholder identification and salience in government", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 289-305. https://doi.org/10.1108/13632541011090419
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