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Presidents, Parties, and Interest Groups

Presidents, Parties, and Interest Groups

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Presidents, Parties, and Interest Groups

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  1. Presidents, Parties, and Interest Groups

  2. Presidents and Political Parties • Presidential leadership depends on the president’s ability to mobilize support for policies and programs. • A potential major source of influence for the president is his ability to count on support from supportive party constituencies and interest groups. • The president must establish a base of support to have any chance of success in office. • A natural source of support is the president’s own partisans and naturally supportive interest groups.

  3. However, presidents cannot always count on support from their own partisans. • A classic example is Clinton’s support for NAFTA in 1994 when the president mobilized support from the Republican side to overcome a Democratic party majority, labor unions, and others who opposed the bill. Another example, is George W. Bush’s bank bailout in 2007. He got insufficient Republican support and had to rely on Democrats. • Consider the following more systematic analysis.

  4. The graphs suggest that presidents can count on support from their own partisans in Congress about 2/3 of the time. • Indeed, political parties and interest groups can impede presidential leadership efforts when they view things from a different perspective. Thus, Bill Clinton in 1994 was not successful in pressing the issue of health care reform, despite the fact that large majorities of Americans favored reform. Partisan and group interests mobilized against the president’s plan.

  5. Perspectives on Political Parties • In the previous lecture we discussed the importance of parties to selecting the president. • We noted that parties emerged by 1800 in response to greater suffrage rights for Americans. • Parties evolved as communication and patronage mechanisms for electing the president. • They were and are very broad aggregations of interests intended to capture the election. • The “Downsian” view is that political parties manipulate their policy positions in a policy space in order to win elections.

  6. Political parties are broader representation mechanisms than interest groups. • However, both parties and interest groups can both be viewed as primarily self interested entities with goals that are inconsistent with the national interest.

  7. Presidential Leadership of Parties • An incumbent president represents broad diverse interests. A question in democratic theory concerns whether the president just represents those who elected him, or the interests of the nation at large. • Regardless of the president’s role in democratic representation, the president always desires to have party support. Party support is a resource for success in government.

  8. An incumbent president is usually viewed as symbolic leader of his political party. The non-incumbent party is typically leaderless during the period of non-incumbency. Various people vie for the title of party leader, but none typically succeeds. Who is the current leader of the Republican party? • While the president is leader of his political party, there are obstacles to presidential leadership. • Party discipline is difficult to enforce due to changes in the party system that we discussed last week. Presidents are not beholding the party for their election. Likewise, members of Congress are generally on their own in getting election. • Ours is not a responsible party system as occurs in Europe as shown by the earlier graphs.

  9. Presidents and their parties also have different organizational needs. Presidents seek loyalty to their administration, while parties want to disperse benefits across their diverse constituencies. • Presidents and their parties may also have different temporal horizons. Parties last for many decades, while presidents serve only 4 or 8 years. • As noted earlier, through time there have been various reforms that have weakened the influence of political parties and the president’s ability to lead. These include: • Party reforms and resulting primary elections. • Candidate centered elections. • Campaign finance limitations.

  10. Other changes weakening presidential influence over parties relate to changes in Congress. • Weakening of the reward system in Congress and the decline of seniority. Party leaders are elected in caucus. • The evolution of subcommittee government and the dispersion of power in Congress. Congress has become increasingly fragmented by the evolution of subcommittee government. The president’s program is now subject to more cross-cutting influences in Congress. Multiple committees responsible for most policies. • Increased number of roll call votes due to electronic voting makes position taking more visible and subject to constituent scrutiny. Higher visibility for voting decisions. Opening of committee hearings to the public have also increased visibility. • Newer breed of legislators are less susceptible to leadership. Anti-Washington in their outlook.

  11. While presidential leadership is not assured, the president does bring some assets to the game. • Presidential coat-tail effects can produce those who are beholding to the president. Thus, sometimes presidents campaign for other elected officials. This is not always effective.

  12. Having the ear of the president can build prestige and standing among partisans. Thus, presidents issue invitations, hold meetings with, and manipulate symbols. • Case work is also an important advantage for the presidency. • More broadly, presidential visibility can affect the image of the party for many years to come. • Presidents typically share beliefs with members of their own party, and this engenders loyalty through rhetoric

  13. While patronage such as existed in the 19th century is gone, presidents do have some control of political appointments and federal jobs. • Presidents also raise money for the political parties through public appearances and appeals. • Presidents also influence the party organization. Usually select the chair of the party organization. May also influence party platforms and rules.

  14. The President and Interest Groups • Interest group: A group with a common interest that seeks to influence government. • Pluralism: The growth of interest groups prevents the concentration of excessive power in the hands of few, and thus enhances democracy. • During the 19th century most interest groups turned their attention to the center of gravity of the political system which was congress. • Until the 1960s, the number of interest groups that were influential in Washington was small. Major interests were represented such as agriculture, business, and organized labor. Indeed, one can track the expansion of government from the 19th century as a function of group interests.

  15. With few interest groups, the president could oppose interest group positions on one issue, but curry favor by supporting them on others. Interest group politics was one of negotiation and compromise. • Beginning in the 1960s and expanding in the 1970s, the number of interest groups operating in Washington exploded. • Many of the new groups were single issue groups, and compromise became difficult. • After the rise in the number of interest groups, coalition building, negotiation, and compromise became much more complex and difficult.

  16. Reasons for Growth of Interest Groups • Tocqueville saw early on that Americans had a propensity for joining groups. • Economic development and quality of life concerns. In the 1960s people became a lot more concerned with the environment, worker safety, consumer protection, etc. Perhaps a post-modernist revolution. Prior to this people just wanted to eek out a living. • Diversity of population. We have countless social, racial, economic and geographic groups. • Government policies. Whenever government creates an agency, it creates an entry point for interest groups. Iron triangles and subsystems.

  17. Diffusion of power in government. Political power is shared by many which leads to plenty of places in which a group can argue its case. The more places there are to influence policy, the more organizations there will be to exercise that influence. • Weaknesses of political parties- when parties are unable to get things done, interest groups have filled the power vacuum. • Campaign finance reforms of the 1970's have opened up and brought out into the open the lobbying process. Prior to 1974 it was illegal for corporations to donate money to candidates for federal office. The FECA enacted reforms that changed this by allowing corporations and groups to form independent bodies called Political Action Committees (PACs) that could donate money to candidates. PACS became among the most important group influences in Washington.

  18. Reaction of conservative and business groups to what they saw as the excesses of liberal activism of the 1960's and 1970's • Interest groups tend to beget interest groups. • Technology.

  19. Presidential Relations with Interest Groups • With the decline of parties, presidents need interest group support to get elected. • Money (go back to FEC reports on Political Money Line or ) • Organizational support • Mobilization of faithful (the Christian Right, the NRA, etc.) • With the decline of parties, presidents also need interest group support for governing.

  20. Yet, governing has become more difficult with the proliferation of interest groups. • In our system it is easier to block action than to take action. • Decentralization of Congress and decline of seniority and movement to subcommittee, rather than committee government makes blocking action easier. • The proliferation of interest groups has made policy making more complex as policy makers attempt to satisfy more cross-cutting interests. • The proliferation of interest groups has taxed the system, as more and more groups seek a piece of the pie.

  21. The rise of ideologically motivated groups has made compromise less feasible and increased conflict in the system. • It is now harder to build coalitions than in earlier times, because of the increased number of groups, as well as polarization.

  22. Traditionally, interest groups sought influence through Congress and its committees and subcommittees. • However, with increasing centralization of power to the presidency, interest groups also attempt to influence the White House. • The president is a centralizing force in public policy making. • Through the OMB, the president exercises central clearance of new policy proposals coming from the bureaucracy. • The president has the first move in budgeting. • Through the Office of Information and Regulatory Assessment in the OMB, the president has substantial influence over new regulations. • Through political appointments and staffing the president can shape policy implementation.

  23. Thus, the relationship between the president and interest groups is mutually endogenous. Groups seek influence through the presidency. And presidents seek influence and support from interest groups. • Presidents need group support and use various strategies to obtain it. • Modern presidents interact more with the leadership of interest groups. It is not uncommon for group leaders to visit or spend time at the White House. • Presidents give speeches before meetings of interest groups.

  24. Presidents from Nixon through George W. Bush maintained an office in the White House for the purpose of liason with interest groups. It was called the Office of Public Liason. • The Office of Public Liason was intended to provide an institutional mechanism for the president to reach out to interest groups, as well as allow access to the president. • However, Barack Obama Barack Obama resolutely refused during the 2008 election campaign to accept contributions from lobbyists and PACs. His campaign was not funded by interest groups or political action committees, but contributions from ordinary citizens. • He did away with the Office of Public Liason, creating a new Office of Public Engagement.