The Trump Administration’s Effect on the Advocacy Landscape

APCO’s TradeMarks Study, which examines Washington, D.C., policy elites’ perceptions of trade association public policy effectiveness, details what is important for trade associations to focus on as advocates for their members. This year we interviewed 340 congressional staffers, executive branch personnel and private sector executives working in policy and communications roles and had them rate 50 associations representing key segments of the U.S. economy.


To say the Trump Administration has changed Washington is an understatement. Our study’s results confirm this sentiment, showing a break in patterns from the four previous studies. In 2018, survey participants believe it is most important for trade associations to still be in relationship building mode rather than leveraging those relationships to move legislation or adjust regulatory schemes.

In the past, our studies have indicated the second year of a Congress is about getting things done. However, the divisiveness of the Trump Administration and its complicated relationship with Congress is forcing associations in 2018 to continue seeking out the political influencers important for their industry and members and developing wide-ranging relationships throughout Washington.

A key challenge for associations (and companies for that matter) is determining where to invest in deep relationships given the turmoil within the executive branch and the fact a new Congress will be seated in 2019.

Looking forward, we expect the 2019 landscape to remain unsettled as the Trump administration and Congress continue their uneasy relationship. One way or another, there will be a new Speaker of the House. Who that is and their relationship with their own party, the minority party, the Senate leadership and President Trump will shape and drive the 2019 agenda.

Now is the time for associations (and their members) to be planning for 2019. The results and our experience indicate that stakeholder mapping, building and deepening relationships, and developing one’s story are critical to achieving public policy success.

  • Identify potential allies – in Congress, the administration and the private sector.
  • Find authentic partners and third parties to reinforce a trade association’s messages and advocate for policies to increase the opportunity for policy success.
  • Survey one’s members to assist in developing an agenda and the story you want policymakers to know.

My colleague, Anthony DeAngelo, provides additional thoughts on preparing for and navigating the next Congress in this excellent post.

Laying the groundwork now, even with the fate of Congress still to be determined, enables forward-thinking associations to be prepared come January.