O’Connor and Sabato
Continuity and Change
In this chapter we will cover…
• What Are Interest Groups?
• The Roots and Development of American
• What Do Interest Groups Do?
• What Makes an Interest Group
What Are Interest Groups?
• An Interest Group (special interests) is
an organization of people with similar
policy goals that tries to influence the
political process to try to achieve those
• Interest groups try to influence every
branch and every level of government.
The Roots and Development
of American Interest Groups
• Interest groups have been part of the American
political landscape since the country’s founding.
• James Madison in Federalist #10 argued for a
proliferation of groups so that no one group
could get hegemony over the other groups.
• The open nature of the American government
invites organized political participation.
The Roots and Development of
American Interest Groups
• National Groups Emerge (1830-80)
• Progressive Era (1890-1920)
– Organized Labor – the American Federation of Labor (AFL)
– Business and Trade Associations – The National Association
of Manufacturers (NAM) (1895)
• The Rise of the Interest Group State (1960s and 1970s)
– Religious and Ideological Groups
– Business Groups, Trade, and Professional Associations
– Organized Labor
What Do Interest Groups Do?
• The most common and effective interest
group technique is lobbying or seeking to
influence and persuade others to support
your group's position.
• Lobbyists are hired by your college or
university, businesses, foreign countries,
trade associations, and anyone else wanting
their voice heard on policy matters.
• A lobbyist is someone whose task it is to
influence legislation or policymaking.
Interest Groups Techniques
Direct Techniques: Indirect Techniques:
• Lobbying • Generating Public
– private meetings Pressure
– testifying – groundswell of
– drafting legislation public pressure
– social occasions – using constituents
– providing political
information – building alliances
with other groups
– supplying nomination
• A lobbyist must be honest and truthful if he or
she wants to remain effective.
• Access to lawmakers is critical and if a lobbyist
gains a reputation for being untruthful or
disingenuous legislators’ doors will close.
• Of course lobbyists put their group’s position in
a favorable light, but good lobbyists will also
make lawmakers aware of the downsides of a
bill and the arguments on the other side as well.
Top Lobbying Expenditures
What Makes an Interest
In general three factors tend to lead to interest
1. Leaders – Having a prominent leader aids in the
reputation of the group and enhances a group’s
ability to attain its goals.
2. Patrons and Funding – Funding is critical.
Without money, it is difficult to get your message
3. Members – A group must have members to be
successful. Organizing members allows for
strength in numbers and pooling of financial
Interest Group Ratings of Selected
Member of Congress
Pluralism and its Critics
• Pluralist theory • Three criticism of
argues that interest
1. It gives short shrift to
group activity brings those who are not
representation to all. organized.
2. It fails to deal with the
• Interest groups fact that some interests
have more power than
compete and others.
counterbalance one 3. It seems to leave no room
another. for consideration of
Hyperpluralists argue that when
interest groups become so powerful
that they dominate the political
decision-making structures they
render any consideration of the
greater public interest impossible.
Criticism of Interest Groups
Interest Groups have been criticized for
– ignoring the wider interest of society
– producing confusion and deadlock in
– generating so much emotion that they
make reasoned discussion difficult
– having too much influence
Important Points to Think About
• promote interest in public affairs
• provide useful information
• serve as watchdogs
• represent the interest of citizens