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Click to subscribe: interest group emails as a source of data


Modern interest groups frequently utilize email communications with members as an organizational and informational tool. Furthermore, the nature of email communications—frequent, abundant, and simple to collect—makes them an excellent source of data for studies of interest groups. Nevertheless, despite the substantive importance and methodological possibilities of email communications, few interest group scholars have taken advantage of this data source due to the lack of a comprehensive, systematic database of email texts. This article makes the case for emails as a form of (big) data in the interest group field and discusses best practices for compiling and analyzing datasets of interest group emails. The article also introduces the Political Group Communication Database—the first large scale database of interest group and think tank email communications—and discusses the utility of this (and related) data for answering perennial and newly emergent questions in the interest group field.

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Fig. 1


  1. A growing body of research has focused on Internet-based communication platforms like Facebook and Twitter, with increasingly sophisticated methods and expanded data (e.g., Perlmutter 2008; Williams and Gulati 2013). Nevertheless, as Karpf (2010: 11) notes, these studies demonstrate a “technocentric bias” by focusing on newer technologies like social networking sites. More mundane (but central) modes of communication, such as email, have received little attention.

  2. The complete database and documentation can be found at

  3. There are some methods (e.g., the “gmailr” R package) that enable interfacing with the email server without directly downloading emails, though for large scale analysis it is recommended to export the messages.

  4. It is worth noting that automated non-text filtering procedures will likely be imperfect, leaving some emails with noise that is not easy to extract on a large scale. Despite best efforts, for example, some PGCD emails still contain HTML programming code.


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Albert, Z. Click to subscribe: interest group emails as a source of data. Int Groups Adv 9, 384–395 (2020).

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  • Interest groups
  • Emails as data
  • Internet communication