Interest Groups
The Role and Reputation of
Interest Groups
• Defining Interest Groups
– An organization of people with shared policy
goals entering the policy process at several
points to try to achieve those goals. Interest
groups pursue their goals in many arenas.
– Political Parties fight election battles, Interest
Groups don’t - but they may choose sides.
– Interest Groups are policy specialists, Political
Parties are policy generalists.
Theories of Interest Group
Politics
• Pluralist Theory
• Elite Theory
• Hyperpluralist Theory
Click on name to go to that slide.
Theories of Interest Group
Politics - Pluralism
• Definition:
– Politics is mainly a competition among
groups, each one pressing for its own
preferred policies.
– Many centers of power and many diverse,
competing groups.
– No group wins or loses all the time.
– Groups provide the key link between the
people and the government.
Theories of Interest Group
Politics - Pluralism
• Continued
– Groups provide a key link between people
and government.
– Groups compete.
– No one group is likely to become too
dominant.
– Groups usually play by the “rules of the
game.”
– Groups weak in one resource can use
another.
Theories of Interest Group
Politics - Elitism
• Definition:
– Societies are divided along class lines and an
upper-class elite rules, regardless of the
formal niceties of governmental organization.
– Numerous groups mean nothing, power is not
equally divided among them - some have
much more.
– The largest corporations hold the most power.
Theories of Interest Group
Politics - Elitism
• Continued
– Elite power is strengthened by a system of
interlocking directorates of these corporations
and other institutions.
– Corporate elites are willing to lose the minor
policy battles, but work to win the major policy
issues in their favor.
– Lobbying is a problem because it benefits the
few at the expense of the many.
Theories of Interest Group
Politics - Hyperpluralism
• Definition:
– Groups are so strong that government is
weakened. Extreme, exaggerated form of
pluralism.
– Subgovernments consist of a network of
groups that exercise a great deal of control
over specific policy areas.
– Interest groups have become too powerful as
the government tries to serve every interest.
Theories of Interest Group
Politics - Hyperpluralism
• Continued
– The many subgovernments (iron triangles)
aggravate the process.
– When the government tries to please all the
groups, the policies become confusing and
contradictory.
– With more interest groups getting involved,
these subgovernments may be dissolving.
What Makes an Interest Group
Successful?
• The Surprising Ineffectiveness of Large
Groups
– Potential group: All the people who might be
interest group members because they share a
common interest.
– Actual group: The part of the potential group
consisting of members who actually join.
– Collective good: Something of value that
cannot be withheld from a group member
What Makes an Interest Group
Successful?
– Free-Rider problem: Some people don’t join
interest groups because they benefit from the
group’s activities without officially joining.
– The bigger the group, the larger the free-rider
problem. (Olson’s law of large groups)
– Large groups are difficult to keep organized.
What Makes an Interest Group
Successful?
– Small groups are better organized and more
focused on the group’s goals.
– Consumer groups have a difficult time getting
significant policy gains - the benefits are
spread over the entire population.
– Groups that can provide selective benefits
can overcome this problem.
What Makes an Interest Group
Successful?
• Intensity
– Single-Issue groups: Groups that focus on a
narrow interest and dislike compromise.
– Groups may focus on an emotional issue,
providing them with a psychological
advantage.
– May be more likely to use protests and other
means of political participation than traditional
interest groups that use lobbyists.
What Makes an Interest Group
Successful?
• Financial Resources
– Not all groups have equal amounts of money.
– Monetary donations usually translate into
access to the politicians - a phone call, a
meeting, etc.
– There is a bias towards the wealthier groups.
– The wealthier groups don’t always win in the
policy arena.
How Groups Try to Shape
Policy
• Lobbying
– “communication by someone other than a
citizen acting on his own behalf, directed to a
governmental decisionmaker with the hope of
influencing his decision.” (Lester Milbrath)
– Two basic types: Those that are employed by
a group, and those that are hired temporarily.
How Groups Try to Shape
Policy
– Lobbyists are a source of information.
– Lobbyists can help politicians plan political
strategies for legislation.
– Lobbyists can help politicians plan political
strategies for reelection campaigns.
– Lobbyists can provide ideas and innovations
that can be turned into policies that the
politician can take credit for.
How Groups Try to Shape
Policy
• Electioneering
– Direct group involvement in the election
process.
– Political Action Committee (PAC): Used by
interest groups to donate money to
candidates.
– PACs help pay the bill for increasing
campaign costs.
– Most PAC money goes to incumbents.
How Groups Try to Shape
Policy
• Litigation
– If an interest group fails in one arena, the
courts may be able to provide a remedy.
– Interest groups can file amicus curiae briefs in
court cases to support their position.
– Class Action lawsuits permit small groups of
people to try and correct a situation on behalf
of a much larger group.
How Groups Try to Shape
Policy
• Going Public
– Groups try and cultivate a good public image.
– Groups use marketing strategies to influence
public opinion of the group and its issues.
– Groups will purchase advertising to motivate
the public about an issue.
Types of Interest Groups
• Economic Interests
– Labor
– Agriculture
– Business
• Environmental Interests
• Equality Interests
• Consumer and Public Interest Lobbies
Understanding Interest Groups
• Interest Groups and Democracy
– James Madison’s solution to the problems
posed by interest groups was to create a
wide-open system in which groups compete.
– Elite theorists point to the proliferation of
business PACs as evidence of interest group
corruption.
– Hyperpluralists maintain that group influence
has led to policy gridlock.
Understanding Interest Groups
• Interest Groups and the Scope of
Government
– Interest groups seek to maintain policies and
programs that benefit them.
– Interest groups continue to pressure
government to do more things.
– But as the government does more things,
does that cause the formation of more
groups?