The American Democracy, 10th Edition (Patterson)
Interest Groups: Organizing for Influence
The author focuses on interest groups and the degree to which various interests in American society are represented by organized groups. He believes that economically powerful groups dominate the group system, a belief not shared by pluralist thinkers. The chapter begins with delineation between economic and citizens’ groups, and offers an explanation for differences in the degree to which various interests are organized. The chapter then explores the lobbying process by which interest groups seek to achieve their policy goals and evaluates its impact on national policy. The differences between inside and outside lobbying are examined, along with the various forms of activity each entails. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how the group system is simultaneously indispensable and flawed. The main points are as follows:
- Although nearly all interests in American society are organized to some degree, those associated with economic activity, particularly business enterprises, are by far the most thoroughly organized. Their advantage rests on their superior financial resources and on the private goods (such as wages and jobs) they provide to those in the organization.
- Groups that do not have economic activity as their primary function often have organizational difficulties. These groups pursue public or collective goods (such as a safer environment) that are available even to individuals who are not group members, so individuals may free ride, choosing not to pay the costs of membership.
- Lobbying and electioneering are the traditional means by which groups communicate with and influence political leaders. Recent developments, including grassroots lobbying and PACs, have heightened interest groups’ influence.
- The interest-group system over-represents business interests and fosters policies that serve a group’s interest more than the society’s broader interests. Thus, although groups are an essential part of the policy process, they also distort that process.