American Interest Groups

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How do interest groups influence policy? Use examples to illustrate your answer.

“Interest groups are no less a threat than they are an expression of freedom” (Berry, 1984).

We start this essay with this famous quote from Berry introducing us to what exactly an interest group is. Indeed in general, public opinion and people unaware of an interest group’s actions might regard interest groups in a negative light. The more famous interest groups can tend to generate a lot of negative publicity. For instance, in the US one of the most famous interest groups is the National Rifle Association, which defends the right to bear weapons. This, of course, has led to controversy especially given the recent high school shootings in places such as Virginia and Columbine; and in international news, the October 2007 high school shootings in Finland.

Let us now consider David Truman’s definition of an interest group:
“An interest group is any group that is based in one or more shared attitudes and makes certain claims upon other groups or organisation in the society.”

In other words, an interest group is a like company defending its interests with very precise methods. Interest groups are present in all branches of society. They can concern lots of issues, or even just one. For example there are interest groups in areas such as agriculture, economics and labour to mention just a few. Interest groups have always existed in the US as documented by Alexis de Tocqueville, a French economist of the nineteenth century. He thoroughly analysed the role of interest groups in nineteenth century American Democracy. He stresses their usefulness in a democratic society. We can quote one sentence taken from his tome one, “Democracy in America”, published between 1835 and 1840 (translated from the French): “ the democracy draws its force from the fact that people have the possibility of organizing themselves, to make known their point of view, to produce results and to tighten social tissue of their community(..)”.

Indeed for centuries they have had a huge importance on government level as well as in the everyday lives of the citizens. Interest groups are the link between the American government and its citizens. Their actions try to safeguard a certain principle, for example a right in the American Constitution protecting its own specific interest.

In order to be useful, interest groups need to be extremely powerful and imposing. Their main objective is the protection of their rights, the defence of their interests, and having a say in the political process, which brings us naturally to think that having a good relationship with the current or future government is one of the best ways of achieving their goals. Their most important asset is influence. To obtain influence the interest group must be able to convince politicians who initially may not be keen on the ideas of the interest group. Interest groups must find common interests, values, beliefs or objectives with politicians of mutual benefit or self-promotion. Interest groups influence policy through their powers of persuasion. It is these techniques of persuasion that will be analysed in the course of this discussion.

In this essay we will firstly examine the direct techniques used by interest groups to influence policy, i.e. actions directly engaging the participation of the lobbyists. The fact that sometimes illegal actions are undertaken in order to influence the political process will be underlined in this section. Then the indirect methods used by interest groups will be discussed, actions carried out by outside contributors but under the authorisation of the interest group. Finally, we look at factors other than interest groups that influence policy. All of these will be accompanied by concrete examples.

Ronald J.Hreberna said in his book (Interest group politics in America):“the passage of a particular bill in congress or a...
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