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  1. INTEREST GROUPS Topic #34

  2. Interest Groups • Definition: an interest group is • a group with common interests • that is organized • With the goal of influencing government policy. • Traditional and popular view: • interest groups are a sinister and corrupting force, • whose influence should be minimized. • Dominant political science view: • Interest groups play a partially positive role, because • most individuals can’t (or don’t) speak for themselves; • groups communicate problems and preferences to legislators and other public officials; and • they represent functional vs. geographic groups (e.g., legislative constituencies)

  3. Interest Groups (cont.) • Typical Elements of Organization: • Name (see next slide) • Formal membership • constitutional structure • often confederal (i.e., groups of groups) • Members pay dues, giving the organization financial resources • Officers: • President • Council • Headquarters and staff • Executive Director • Public relations • legislative liaison • “hired gun” lobbying firms

  4. Types And Varieties of Interest Groups

  5. Types and Varieties (cont.) • Narrow (special) interest groups: • Trade Associations [confederations of corporations in particular industries] • Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) • Recording Industry Association (RIA) • American Petroleum Institute • Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) • National Association of Broadcasters (AAB) • National Bankers Association (NBA) • American Truckers Association (ATA) • Association of American Railroads (AAR) • Tobacco Institute

  6. Types and Varieties (cont.) • Professional Associations: • American Medical Association (AMA) • American College of Surgeons • American Academy of Family Physicians • American Bar Association (ABA) • Trial Lawyers Association • National Education Association (NEA) • American Political Science Association (APSA) • Unions: • United Auto Workers (UAW) • International Brotherhood of Teamsters • American Federation of Teachers (AFT) • American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)

  7. Types and Varieties (cont.) • “Peak Associations” • Business • National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) [a confederation of manufacturing corporations] • U.S. Chamber of Commerce [a confederation of retail businesses] • Business Roundtable • American Farm Bureau Federation • Labor: • American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) [a confeder-ation of labor unions]

  8. Types and Varieties (cont.) • Single-Issue [or Issue Area] Groups • Anti-Saloon League • National Rifle Association (NRA) • American Automobile Association (AAA) • Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) • National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL Pro-Choice America) • National Right-to-Life Committee • Sierra Club • Environmental Defense Fund

  9. Types and Varieties (cont.) • Broad interest groups: • Demographic groups: • American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) • National Organization of Women (NOW) • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) • American Legion • Ideological • Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) [liberal] • National Conservative Political Action Committee • People for the American Way [liberal]

  10. Types and Varieties (cont.) • Public interest groups: • Common Cause • Public Citizen [Ralph Nader] • Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) • Governmental Associations: • National Association of Counties • National Conference of State Legislatures • National League of Cities • U.S. Conference of Mayors

  11. (Increasing) Prevalence of Interest Groups in American Politics • Alexis de Toqueville: In no country in the world has the principle of association been more successfully used or applied to a greater multitude of objects than in America. • Social pluralism (cf. Madison, Federalist #10) • Any government regulates, taxes, and spends in ways that affect different groups differently, giving groups an incentive to influence government decisions. • A democratic government (with citizen rights) is in effect an invitation to form interest groups. • A fragmented governmental system (separation of powers, bicameralism, federalism, etc.) provides many points of influence. • Weak political parties mean that individual legislators (as opposed to a few party leaders) can be profitably influenced by interest groups • The increased complexity of economy and society has • increased reach of government activity, and • brings about “arms race” effects among groups (if our competitors are organized, we have to get organized also).

  12. Interest Group Activities • Direct services to members only (“selective incentives”): • publications • insurance • AAA [originally founded to lobby for paved roads]: maps, roadside service • Lobbyist activities: • information from organization to decision makers • intelligence from decision makers to organization • Insider lobbying (often behind the scenes and not very visible activity with respect to issues that get little public attention): • access (to legislators and other decision makers); • persuasion (try to convert legislators to your side on some issue); • mobilization (try to get legislators who are already on your side on some issue to become more active on this issue); • litigation.

  13. Interest Group Activities (cont.) • Outsider pressure (more visible activities often with respect to issues of general public concern): • public relations (influencing public opinion) • issue advocacy • mobilization • letter writing campaigns, etc. • petitions • demonstrations, etc. [civil rights movement]. • Electoral activities (PACs [political action committees]): • Make campaign contributions (perhaps to both sides to get access whoever wins) vs. • taking sides in elections • endorsements • voter mobilization • coordinated or independent activities

  14. The “Group Theory” of Politics • A common view among American scientists about 50 years ago (e.g., (David Truman, The Governmental Process) : the public interest may be defined as compromises negotiated among organized interest groups and ratified in legislation. • More recent critique of group theory: interests are not equally represented by organized groups (Mancur Olson, Logic of Collective Action) • Some groups are easier to organize than others: those characterized by • small size, • geographical concentration, • a very high stake in policy/issue area, and/or • very intense preferences, and • not subject to crosscutting pressures. • Free rider/collective action problems (emphasized by Olson; see K&J, Chapter 1) • Values of selective incentives if available • narrowly shared intense preferences vs. widely shared shallow preferences, e.g., • wheat farmers vs. people who eat bread and cereal, • produces vs. consumers generally

  15. Interest Group Influence: “Public Opinion Rules” Governing Polarized [interest groups on both sides] Majoritarian [interest groups on both sides]

  16. Interest Group Influence Public Opinion Does Not Rule Permissive: an unopposed interest group gets its way or several groups compromise Intense Minority: an unopposed interest group probably gets it way (unless defeated by a “political entrepreneur”) Factional: directly opposed interest groups fight it out (each tries, without much success, to bring public opinion to its side)