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Interest Groups in American Politics

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Presentation on theme: "Interest Groups in American Politics"— Presentation transcript:

1 Interest Groups in American Politics
Chapter 13

2 Outline Montage of Interest Groups
Three Definitions of Interest Groups Theories of Interest Groups in Politics What Makes Interest Groups Successful? How Groups Try to Shape Policy Assessing the Role of Interest Groups in Democratic Governance

3 What are Interest Groups? Three Definitions
Neutral: Private organizations or associations that seek to influence government policies as a way to protect or advance some interest or concern. Negative: Special interests that seek advantage over other groups and against the public interest. Positive: An instrument of democracy; an alternative path by which Americans can influence their government.

4 Theories of Interest Group Politics
Pluralist Theory Elite Theory Hyper-pluralist Theory Along with three definitions, we have three different ways of looking at the role of interest groups in American politics…

5 Theories of Interest Group Politics: Pluralism
Definition: Groups provide the key link between the people and the government. Politics is mainly a competition among groups, not individuals, with each group pressing for its own preferred policies. Many centers of power exist with many diverse groups competing for power. The “Positive” Image of Interest Groups Business offsets Labor ACLU offsets NRA Grange & Dairy Industry offset Sierra Club

6 This is actually a political cartoon from the early 1940’s and represents President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s insistence that no group in society attempt to take advantage of the war-time efforts to make gains for itself. Here it serves as a clear acknowledgement by government of the location of power in groups. (It’s an interesting to view this cartoon in today’s election campaigns where charges of war profiteering continue to be raised.)

7 Theories of Interest Group Politics: Pluralism
Key Assumption: No group becomes too dominate, i.e., no group wins or loses all the time. BUT … "The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent." E.E.Schattsschneider Pluralism is perhaps the most commonly held theory about the role of interest groups. NO ONE DOMINATES: --Groups play by the rules --Groups weak in one resource can rely on another resource. --Lobbying is open to all, therefore, not a problem. But E.E. Schattschneider, a critic of pluralism, argues: "The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent."

8 Theories of Interest Group Politics: Elitism
Societies are divided along class lines and that an upper-class elite will rule, regardless of the formal niceties of governmental organization. Numerous groups means nothing, the power is not equally divided among them - some have much more. One alternative perspective, an offshoot of Schattschneider’s critique. -- The system works but only for those with the capability to organize. -- Poor and minorities are abused. -- The largest corporations hold the most power. Could add Hero’s “Two Tiered Pluralism” here.

9 Theories of Interest Group Politics: Elitism
The power is strengthened by a system of interlocking directorates of these corporations and other institutions. Lobbying is a problem because it benefits the few at the expense of the many. Corporate elites are willing to lose the minor policy battles, but work to win the major policy issues in their favor.

10 Theories of Interest Group Politics: Hyperpluralism
Groups are so strong that government is weakened. “Iron Triangles” (combinations of groups, bureaucracy and congressional committees and subcommittees) keep government from working properly. Hyperpluralism – an extreme, exaggerated form of pluralism. Minority/Special interest tyranny becomes the rule as governments are “captured” or “co-opted” by special interests. Examples of special interests that at times have appeared too powerful: Tobacco Companies. Oil Industry, NRA. With Hyper-pluralism, it’s not just that the elites capture government but that different groups capture different parts and there is no coherency to public policy.

11 What Makes an Interest Group Successful?
Financial Resource 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. But wealthier groups don’t always win in the policy arena. Other resources matter too. People count and are counted.

12 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. Single-issue interest groups may be more likely to use protests and other means of political participation than traditional interest groups that use lobbyists. (Sounds like crossover from “Social Movement”. Indeed the boundaries between and informal movement and the establishment of a formal interest group is somewhat ambiguous.)

13 What Makes an Interest Group Successful?
The Surprising Ineffectiveness of Large Groups “Free-Rider” problem: Some people don’t join interest groups because they benefit from the group’s activities without officially joining. Consumer groups have a particularly difficult time organizing - the benefits they win are spread over the entire population. At the same time the power of consumer interest groups is in their large numbers.

14 What Makes an Interest Group Successful?
The bigger the group, the larger the free-rider problem. Small groups are better organized and more focused on the group’s goals. Groups provide “selective benefits” as a way to overcome the free rider. Since its founding in 1902 as the American Automobile Association, this association of independent clubs has been an advocate for the motorist and traveler. It has fought motorists’ legislative battles, protected them against unduly restrictive legislation, and worked against harsh and unjust prosecutions. AAA has been in the forefront of the movement for adequate roads and safe use of those roads. It has fought for equitable taxation and stood constant watch over the rights and prerogatives of America’s travelers. A not-for-profit, fully tax-paying organization with more than 44 million members, AAA is known primarily for providing emergency road service, maps and travel publications, AAA also has a broad range of travel services, member-benefit programs and public service activities.

15 Four Ways That Groups Try to Shape Policy
Lobbying Electioneering Litigation Going Public

16 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.” Two basic types of lobbyists: Those that are employed by a group, and those that are hired temporarily.

17 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.

18 How Groups Try to Shape Policy
Electioneering Direct group involvement in the election process. Political Action Committee (PAC): Used by corporations and unions to donate money to candidates. Sometimes used by groups as well. Groups are often picky about who gets money. Groups can do more than just donate money. Groups can use their own money to campaign independently on behalf of candidates. Much of what you see on TV these days are independent campaign ads protected by the 1st Amendment “freedom of speech”. These ads will be restricted after this election – until the courts get involved and overturn recent Congressional attempts to clean up “soft money”.

19 How Groups Try to Shape Policy
Litigation If an interest group fails in one area, 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.

20 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.

21 Questions: Assessing the Role of Interest Groups
Do interest groups, on balance, help or hurt the practice of democracy in the United States? Do interest groups, on balance, help or hurt the fashioning of coherent and effective public policies?

22 The Benefits of Interest Groups for Citizens
Promote interest in public affairs Provide useful information Serve as watchdogs Represent the interest of citizens

23 The Negatives: Policy Consequences
Incoherence – Policies that are inherently incompatible or affect consequences for budgets Gridlock – Failure to compromise produces failure to respond to problems

24 The Negatives: Violations of Political Equality
Representational inequalities Resource inequalities PACs/ Soft money/ Independent expenditures Access inequality The “privileged” position of business The “privileged” position of business: resources business civilization regarded as a public rather than private interest power of mobility

25 What is to be done? Strengthen the institutions of majoritarian democracy Expand the “scope of conflict”/ convert interest group politics to party politics Make America more equal Shift to parliamentary democracy To minimize the undue influence of interests that prevent “majority will”, we can try the following….

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