This chapter examines the degree to which various interests in American society are represented by organized groups, the process by which interest groups exert influence and the costs and benefits of group politics regarding the public good.
Main points made in the chapter are the following:
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 fact that they offer potential members private goods (such as wages and jobs).
Groups that do not have economic activity as their primary function often have organizational problems. They pursue public or collective goods (such as a safer environment) that are available even to individuals who are not group members, and so individuals may choose 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 given added visibility to groups' activities.
The interest-group system over represents business interests and higher-income groups and fosters policies that serve a group's interest more than the public interest. Thus, although groups are an essential part of the democratic process, they also distort that process.
After reading this chapter you should be able to:
Define interest groups and describe what they do.
List the different types of interest groups and their constituencies.
Distinguish between economic and non-economic interest groups.
Distinguish between inside and outside lobbying processes.
Identify what functions political action committees fulfill in the political process.
Distinguish between iron triangles and issue networks.
Explain what grassroots lobbying is.
Explain the differences between pluralist theory and "interest group liberalism."