Chapter 11. Interest Groups
Interest group activities inundate American politics – you can find them lobbying at the local, state, and federal level, and you can find them working feverously within each of the branches of government.
All this lobbying activity poses an interesting paradox – although turnout in elections has declined since 1960, participation in interest groups has mushroomed.
This chapter focuses on three major themes – factors leading to the growth in interest groups, how interest groups enter to policymaking process, and what they get out of it.
The Role of Interest Groups
All Americans have some interest they want represented. Therefore, organizing to promote these interests is an essential part of democracy.
In fact, through the 1st Amendment, the Constitution guarantees an individuals right to “peaceable assemble, and petition the Government for a redress of grievance”
Interest Groups: an organization of people with similar policy goals who enter the political process to try to achieve those goals. Whatever their goal, interest groups pursue their interests at every level of government, and within each branch of government.
Parties and interest groups differ in two ways: interest groups are policy specialists, while political parties are policy generalists; interest groups do not run political candidates, while political parties use the electoral process to push their policy platforms.
Theories of Interest Groups
Pluralist Theory: politics is mainly a competition among groups; each one pressing for its own policy preferences. All interests are represented;
Elite Theory: society is divided along class lines; the group with power is the upper class elite.
Hyperpluralist Theory: too many groups are getting too much of what they want; government policies become contradictory and lacking direction. In this case, groups are so strong that government is weak; pluralism gone bad.
How do these theories of democracy fit in with interest groups?
Pluralism and Group Theory: pluralists believe that interest groups will win some battles and lose others; and that no group will win or lose all the time.
To understand interest groups, pluralists offer a Group Theory of Politics. This theory argues that: • Groups provide a key link between people and government. Once interests are organized, they can turn to government and get a hearing.
• Groups compete. Labor, business, farmers, consumers, environmentalists, and other interests constantly make competing claims on the government.
• No one group is likely to become too dominant. If one group flexes their muscles, the other group will do the same. Because for every action there is a reaction, power remains balanced.
• Groups usually play by the “rules of the game” Few groups rely on lying, stealing, cheating, or engaging in violence to get their way (pro-life radicals). Group politics is usually a fair fight.
• Groups weak in one resource can use another. While big business may have money on their side, labor has large numbers on their side. All legitimate groups are able to affect policy by one mean or another.
Elites and the Denial of Pluralism: while pluralists are impressed by the large number of organized interests, elites are impressed by how insignificant most of them are. Elites argue that real power is held be a few people, groups, and institutions.
Elites critique pluralists by pointing of the concentration of power in a few hands. When elites claim that power is distributed, elites point out that it is only being distributed to the powerful.
In light of these discrepancies, the elitists’ view of interest groups asserts the following:
• The fact that there are many interest groups is meaningless because not all groups have the same power.
• Major power is held by the largest corporations.
• The power of a few is extensive and interlocking.
• Although some groups may win...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document