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INTEREST GROUPS. … an organization or people with shared policy goals entering the policy process at several points to try to achieve those goals. AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF RETIRED PERSONS. NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION. PEOPLE FOR THE ETHICAL TREATMENT OF ANIMALS.

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… an organization or people with shared policy goals entering the policy process at several points to try to achieve those goals

1. While political parties fight their battles in the electoral process, interest groups do not seek to get their members elected

  • Interest groups may support candidates for office, but American interest groups do not run their own slate of candidates

    2. Interest groups are often policy specialists, whereas political parties are policy generalists

    3. Unlike political parties, interest groups do not face the constraint imposed by trying to appeal to everyone


  • “communication, by someone other than a citizen acting on his own behalf, directed to a governmental decisionmaker with the hope of influencing behavior”

  • a. they are an important source of information providing specialized expertise in a single policy area

  • b. they can help a member with political strategy for getting legislation through (they act as consultants)

  • c. they can help formulate campaign strategy and get the group’s members behind a politician’s re-election campaign

  • d. they are a source of ideas and innovations

Theories of interest group politics
Theories of Interest Group Politics

“Do interest groups and lobbying create problems for government?”

Three theories to answer this question:

  • Pluralism

  • Elitism

  • Hyperpluralism

1 pluralist theory
1. Pluralist Theory

  • a theory of government and politics emphasizing that politics is mainly a competition among groups, each one pressing for its own preferred policies

    • a. argues that interest group activity brings representation to all

    • b. groups compete and counterbalance one another in the political marketplace

      Therefore: lobbying is open to all and is positive.

2 elite theory
2. Elite Theory

  • a theory of government and politics contending that societies are divided along class lines and that an upper-class elite will rule, regardless of the formal niceties of governmental organization

  • Afew groups (primarily the wealthy) have most of the power

  • Most interest groups are insignificant

    Therefore: lobbying is a problem because it benefits the few at the expense of the many.

3 hyperpluralist theory
3. Hyperpluralist Theory

  • a theory of government and politics contending that groups are so strong that government is weakened

    • a. hyperpluralism is an extreme, exaggerated, or perverted form of pluralism

    • b. too many groups are getting too much of what they want, resulting in government policy that is often contradictory and lacking in direction

      Therefore: lobbying results in contradictory and confusing public policies.

Iron triangles
Iron Triangles

  • A network of subgovernments, a mutually dependent, mutually advantageous relationship between interest groups interested in a particular policy, government agencies that administer that policy, and the congressional committees that handle it.

  • Hyperpluralists believe these relationships are ‘too cozy’ and lead to hard choices rarely being made … leading to contradiction and/or policy gridlock.

What makes interest groups successful
What makes interest groups successful?

  • Size

  • Intensity

  • Financial resources

Smallergroups are more likely to achieve their goals than large groups.

But, Why?

Potential groups
Potential Groups

  • All people who might be members due to a shared interest

Actual group
Actual Group

  • Those in the potential group who choose to join

Collective good
Collective Good actual group = greater effectiveness of the group

  • Something of value that cannot be denied or withheld from either potential or actual group members

  • Such as clean air

  • In other words: Potential members benefit from positives that the actual group works to secure.

Therefore the problem presents itself
Therefore, the problem presents itself … actual group = greater effectiveness of the group

“Why should I, a potential member, become an actual member … if I’ll benefit anyways?”

The free rider problem
The Free Rider Problem actual group = greater effectiveness of the group

  • The problem of not joining the actual group because benefits will be realized without joining.

    “Why should I work for a group, pay dues, give time and energy, etc. when I get the advantages without doing anything?”

How to overcome this problem
How to Overcome this Problem … actual group = greater effectiveness of the group

  • Providing attractive benefits only for actual members.

  • These are called Selective Benefits.

    • Goods that a group can restrict to those who are in the actual group

Also … actual group = greater effectiveness of the group

  • “Issue Intensity”

  • Single-Issue Group: a narrow interest, dislikes compromise, and single-mindedly pursues its goal

Financial resources
Financial Resources actual group = greater effectiveness of the group

  • Major criticism of the interest group system is that it is biased toward the wealthy

    Top Groups, according to ‘power’:

  • NRA

  • AARP

  • National Federation of Independent Business

  • American Israel Public Affairs Committee


How interest groups shape policy
How Interest Groups Shape Policy actual group = greater effectiveness of the group

  • Lobbying

  • Litigation

  • Going Public

  • Electioneering

    • PACs

Types of interest groups
Types of Interest Groups actual group = greater effectiveness of the group

  • Economic Interests

    • Labor, Business

  • Environmental Interests

    • WWF, Nature Conservancy

  • Equality Interests

    • NOW, NAACP

  • Consumer/Public Interest Lobbies