Week 9 interest groups in american politics
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Week 9: Interest Groups in American Politics James Madison, Federalist Papers “The causes of faction… are sown in the nature of man.” Saw the need to limit the negative effects of faction by promoting competition among groups

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Week 9: Interest Groups in American Politics

James Madison, Federalist Papers

  • “The causes of faction… are sown in the nature of man.”

  • Saw the need to limit the negative effects of faction by promoting competition among groups

  • Created the concept of ‘checks and balances’, the conservative governmental system we have inherited.


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Hugo Black, U.S. Senator/Supreme Court Justice

“Contrary to good morals…. The lobby has reached such a position of power that it threatens government itself. Its size, its power, its capacity for evil, its greed, trickery, deception and fraud condemn it to the death it deserves.”


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Arthur Bentley (1910) and David Truman (1950)

  • They saw groups as the heart of politics and policy making in a large, complex governmental system

  • Truman noted “the multiplicity of co-ordinate points of access to governmental decisions”

  • He concluded, “The significance of these many points of access and of the complicated texture of relationships among them is great.


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Theodore Lowi

“Interest group liberal solutions to the problem of power provide the system with stability by spreading a sense of representation at the expense of genuine flexibility, at the expense of democratic forms, and ultimately at the expense of legitimacy.”


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Loomis/Cigler (1998)

“Interest group liberalism [the proliferation of groups and their growing access to government] is pluralism, but it is sponsored pluralism, and the government is the chief sponsor.”


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The Climate for the Group Proliferation

  • Substantial cleavages among the citizenry

  • The Constitution

  • Decentralized political power structure (multiple points of access)

  • Decentralized political parties (power vacuum)

  • American value system (individualism/personal achievement)


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Why have interest groups proliferated?

  • A great rise in the number of interest groups since the 1960s;

  • Centralization of group headquarters in Washington, D.C., rather than in NY or elsewhere;

  • Technological developments in information process that promote more sophisticated, more timely, and more specialized grassroots lobbying;

  • The rise of single-issue groups;

  • Changes in campaign finance laws (1971,1974) and the ensuing growth of the PAC;


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Why have interest groups proliferated?

  • The increased formal penetration of political and economic interests in the bureaucracy (advisory committees), the presidency (White House group representatives), and the Congress (caucuses);

  • The continuing decline of political parties;The increased number, activity, and visibility of public-interest groups (Common Cause and Ralph Nader-inspired public interest research organizations);

  • The growth of activity and impact by institutions, including corps, universities, state and local government, and foreign interests;

  • A continuing rise in the amount and sophistication of group activity in state capitals.


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Theories of Group Development

TrumanThe complex society, characterized by economic specialization and social differentiation, is fundamental to group proliferation.

Change – some orderly, some not – is also key.

  • Technological advancements

  • Social disturbances (war, immigration, etc.)


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Theories of Group Development

Groups formed from an imbalance of interests in one area induce a subsequent disequilibrium, which acts as a catalyst for individuals to form groups as counterweights to the new perceptions of inequity.

Group politics is characterized by successive waves of mobilization and counter-mobilization.


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Political Participation and Mobilization: Who, What, When, How and Why

“While spontaneous popular action warms the heart of any good democrat, a moment’s reflection shows that the people initiate little of what we normally call participation…. Acts of participation are stimulated by elites – if not by the government, then by parties, interest groups, agitators, and organizers.” (Jack Nagel, Participation – 1987)


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Rosenstone and Hansen (1993) How and Why

People participate in politics when they get valuable benefits that are worth the costs of taking part.People participate in politics when political leaders coax them into taking part in the game. Both sides are necessary: Strategic mobilization without individual motivation is impossible, and individual motivation without strategic mobilization is illogical (R&H, p. 10)


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Rosenstone and Hansen (1993) How and Why

  • Who participates?

    • People with abundant money, time, skill, knowledge and self confidence devote more resources to politics;

    • For those with limited resources, politics is a luxury they often cannot afford, particularly when outcomes have only a modest impact on their economic situations

  • Those better educated participate more than those less educated;

  • Those with a sense of political efficacy participate more.


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People participate because they get something out of it (Olson/Wilson)

  • Collective rewards (everyone benefits, regardless of participation)

  • Selective rewards (only participants benefit)

  • Whether a person participates or not depends upon their unique set of interests, preferences, identifications and beliefs. (R&H, p. 17)

  • Their level of participation is dependent, however, upon their level of resources available to do so.


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When do they participate? (Olson/Wilson)

  • People participate when the benefits outweigh the costs of participation.

  • Paradox of Participation in Politics

  • Rational Ignorance

  • If people are rational, and they receive only collective benefits from participation in politics, they will not participate. Politics is irrational.

  • In the same way political learning is likewise irrational – hence, Rational Ignorance.


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Important Factor: Social Networks (Olson/Wilson)

  • They provide information at a lower cost to individuals;They provide the ability to selectively reward and sanction members.

  • A necessary, but not sufficient, element to political action.

  • Others in the system – IG’s, parties, entrepreneurs and activists – take advantage of this resource in the struggle for political advantage.


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Political Mobilization (R&H) (Olson/Wilson)

  • Mobilization is the process by which candidates, parties, activists, and groups induce other people to participate.

  • Two Types of Mobilization

    • Direct

    • Indirect

  • Leaders mobilize people directly when they contact citizens personally and encourage them to take action.

  • Leaders mobilize people indirectly when they contact citizens through mutual associates – or social networks.


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Political Mobilization (R&H) (Olson/Wilson)

  • These social networks – particularly formal groups – reduce costs for everyone involved.

  • Through mobilization, political leaders provide information that would otherwise be unavailable to citizens and their social networks.

  • They create an opportunity to target those citizens already predisposed to participate, and they focus political information to those most interested at a significantly reduced cost (social, financial and psychological).


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Strategy of Political Mobilization (Olson/Wilson)

  • Political activity is costly

  • Citizen participation is but one strategy available to political elites

  • Citizen participation is a resource that is used selectively in their fights for political advantage (R&H, p. 30)

  • They target and time their efforts for maximum effect.

  • The decisions made by elites determine much of who participates, and when they participate.


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The Collective Action Problem and Group Mobilization (Olson/Wilson)

Based on the model of the “rational economic man”

Posits that even individuals who have common interests are not inclined to join organizations that attempt to address their concerns.


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The Collective Action Problem and Group Mobilization (con’t)

The major barrier: The free-rider problem

  • Rational individuals choose not to bear the participation costs (time, membership) because they can enjoy the group benefits (such as favorable legislation) whether or not they join.

    • Groups that pursue collective benefits will have a more difficult time forming and surviving.

    • Olson’s key: “selective incentives”: These rewards go only to members of the group

    • Is this an accurate theory of Interest Group formation?


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  The Collective Action Problem and Group Mobilization (con’t)

Other ideas:

  • People are more likely to support interest groups if they object of collective action is the prevention of a collective bad rather than the creation of another collective good (Hansen, 1985)

  • Collective action is more likely in a repetitive scenario (Walker, p. 47)


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Origins and Maintenance of Groups (con’t)

  • Many factors contributed to the origination of groups

  • Apart from incentives, the role of patrons is critical to the growth and development of the interest group system.

    • I.e. SDS

  • Walker argues that the growth is a product of finding alternative sources of revenue outside membership (patrons, donors, etc.)

  • The “energy that drives the process of group formation may come from below or above….”


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Group Strategies (con’t)Two Choices: Inside and Outside

Four factors influence the choice of political strategies by interest groups:

  • The degree of conflict in the political environment;

  • Internal organizational resources;

  • Character of their memberships;

  • The principal sources of their financial support.


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 Walker’s findings: (con’t)

  • Interest groups tend to choose strategies that are compatible with their organizational form;

  • Groups that are decentralized are likely to increase their use of outside strategies;

  • Groups with members from the profit or mixed sectors show little tendency to adopt outside strategies under any circumstances;

  • Citizen groups or those with members from the nonprofit sector are much more likely to respond to conflict with outside strategies;

  • The presence of patrons has a dampening effect on the choice of outside strategies.


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The Three Modes of Political Mobilization (con’t)

  • The association based upon a tightly knit commercial or occupational community in the profit sector whose members share a concern for protecting or advancing their economic interests.

  • Also based upon occupational communities, but entrepreneurs serve to make strong appeals on the behalf of the membership. The role of government sponsorship is high.

  • Groups founded upon the commitment of individuals attracted by a cause, along with a package of financial contributions and other forms of patronage from foundations, wealthy individuals, churches, and other institutions. Strongly non-profit in nature.


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 Final (con’t)Thoughts

“Political mobilization is seldom spontaneous”

 ”The essential prerequisites for successful mobilization are organizational, and many are subject to manipulation through public policy.” (Reagan policy to ‘defund the left’)


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Final T (con’t)houghts

“The reason why some of the most deprived elements of American society are either ignored or represented in the legislative process only by small, nonmember organizations is not that they are satisfied with their status and have no interest in political activity; it is because there is no institutional foundation from which a successful effort at mobilization can be launched.”


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