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Unit 14

Interest Groups: Organizing To Influence

Learning Objectives

After completing this session, you will be able to:

  • Define the term interest group and distinguish these groups from other political organizations.

  • Describe the different types of interest groups.

  • Describe the resources and principal tactics used by interest groups to influence public policy.

  • Analyze the role that interest groups play in the policy-making process.

Topic Overview

This penultimate unit delves into the role of interest groups in American political life. America has, as Tocqueville noted, long been a nation of joiners. We have a long history of joining together for common purposes, and thus it no surprise that organized groups prevail throughout the political system. As the unit shows, however, interest groups are not easily categorized. There is a wide variety of interests represented in the political system and they use an equally wide array of tactics and strategies. Part of this unit demonstrates the vibrancy of strategies and tactics employed by groups attempting to influence public policy.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution understood that organized interests would always attempt to exert influence on policy. They developed a constitutional system of republican government that takes organized interests as a given, and thus allows interests to weigh in on policy-making in various ways. In making the case for the Constitution’s ratification, James Madison placed the problem of organized interests at the center of his theory of republican democracy. In “Federalist No. 10,” he warns of the “mischief of factions” (i.e., organized interests) that could threaten individual or other groups’ liberties. The remedy for the problem of factions lies not in trying to eliminate them, but in controlling their effects. One solution is to encourage the proliferation of various groups of different shapes, sizes, and motives so that no one group dominates the others in ways that undercut basic rights and liberties.

Democracy in America

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Unit 14

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