220 American Government and Politics
Spring, 2000

Kenneth Janda, Instructor

Week 6: Group-Government Linkage
Lecture 2: Interest Groups in the System

May 3

Interest groups v. Political Parties
  • Interest group: "an organized body of individuals who share some political goals and who try to influence public policy decisions"
  • Distinguished from a "political party":
    • BREADTH OF POLICY FOCUS: Interest groups are narrower
      • Interest groups have narrower goals, which are based on the special interests that are common to those in the group.
      • Because they advocate policy positions that promote their special concerns, interest groups are said to engage in INTEREST ARTICULATION.
        • to articulate an interest is to express it clearly
      • Parties, on the other hand, have broader policy goals, based on the diverse interests of the coalition of people who support the party.
      • Because parties must somehow balance diverse, and often conflicting, interests of people in their coalition, they are said to be INTEREST AGGREGATORS.
        • to aggregate interests is to collect and balance them
    • BREADTH OF POLITICAL FOCUS: Interest groups are broader
      • Interest groups operate at all stages of the political process -- elections, policy-making, policy implementation.
      • Parties concentrate on the electoral process and on the allocation of offices within government after elections.
      • In fact, the most distinguishing characteristic of parties is that they nominate candidates to run as AVOWED representatives of the party.
      • If an "interest group" were to do this, it would become a political party by definition.
  • American parties are more aggregative of interests than political parties in other countries.
    • In the U.S. multiple, often conflicting interests are collected and balanced off within the Democratic and Republican parties.
    • In European governments with multiparty systems, voters have a choice of parties that articulate interests of specific groups of voters.
      • Agrarian parties
      • Religious parties
      • Labour
      • Free enterprise
      • Ethnic parties
    • The Anglo-American democracies, which all tend to have two-party systems: UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia--are also aggregative.
    • In these countries, voters tend to know in advance of elections which interests will be represented in government.
    • In multiparty countries, it is uncommon for a single party to control the government after an election.
    • Consequently, government must be formed from coalitions of parties.
    • Voters don't know in advance which parties will join to form a government, so voters don't know what interests will be represented in government when they vote.
    • American parties offer voters fewer choices, but the choices are linked more directly to what government does after election.
  • American parties are also less powerful than political parties in other countries
    • They don't control nominations of their own candidates
    • They can't even collect money to support campaigns without cries to curtail "soft money"
  • These two characteristics of American parties--broadly aggregative nature and lack of internal power--have consequences for American government.
    • American parties fit the pluralist rather than the majoritarian model of democracy.
      • Parties are only additional players on the interest group scene.
      • They offer groups political access, but access does not guarantee political benefits.
      • Even when in control of the legislative and executive branches, American parties do not fit the model of "responsible party government" and are able to carry through legislative programs.
      • Parties are better positioned to block legislative programs than to carry them out.
The pervasiveness of interest groups in American politics
  • A classification of interest groups and examples:
    • business (e.g., National Association of Manufacturers)
    • labor (AFL-CIO)
    • education (National Education Association)
    • farm (Farm Bureau)
    • environmental (Sierra Club)
    • People: senior citizens, women, civil rights, (blacks, Jews, Italians)
    • Public interest (Common Cause)
    • Ideological (Moral Majority, People for the American Way)
    • Single-issue groups (Pro- and Anti-Abortion groups)
  • Where do interest groups operate in the American political process?
    • Everywhere:
      • Legislative branch--origin of term "lobby"
      • executive branch--including the bureaucracy
      • judicial branch--through arguments before the court
      • in state politics
      • in the military
      Interest Groups in Europe
  •  Differences between Europe and the US:
    • Membership in voluntary groups is less common
      • Governmental policies are more extensive
        • Many cities sponsor orchestras
        • Lions Clubs don't clean up highways
    • Most interest groups are organized in hierarchical structures
      • National or "peak" associations are prominent in politics
      • Many maintain links with political parties
  • Interest groups work on parties, not on individual legislators
    • There are no PACs
    • Interest groups don't rate legislators
    • Slomp, p. 81:  "In short, neither the govenrment nor the parliament is an open market where all kinds of pressure groups compete for infleunce."
  • Public policy reflects a business-labor-government tripartism
    • Making public policy through frequent meetings of peak business groups, peak labor groups is called corporatism
    • The involvement of a select number of national organizations in formulation of government policy.
    • Interest aggregation occurs at this stage in European politics.
  • Public policy in the US is made in a pluralist free-for-all, in which political parties collide with numerous interest groups acting in their own interests.