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Chapter 9: Interest Groups

Explaining Proliferation
I. There are at least three reasons why interest groups are so common in this country. First, the more
cleavages there are in a society, the greater the variety of interests that will exist.
A. In addition to divisions along the lines of income and occupation found in any society, America
is a nation of countless immigrants and many races.
B. Americans are scattered over a last land made up of many regions with distinctive traditions and
cultures. These social facts make for a great variety of interests and opinions.
II. Second, the American constitutional system contributes to the number of interest groups by multiplying
the points at which such groups can gain access to the government. When political authority is shared by
many people, there are plenty of places where one can argue one’s case.
A. The more changes there are to influence policy, the more organizations there will be that seek to
exercise influence.
B. There are usually multiple organizations representing a single interest, which can act quite
independently of national headquarters on the state and local levels.
III. The weakness of political parties in the country may help explain the number and strength of our interest
groups.
A. Where parties are strong, interests work through the parties, where parties are weak, interests
operate directly on the government.
The Birth of Interest Groups
I. The number of interest groups has grown rapidly since 1960. The great era of organization building was
in the first two decades of the 20th century.
II. The fact that associations in general, and political interest groups in particular, are created more rapidly
in some periods than in others suggests that these groups do not arise inevitably out of natural social
processes.
III. At least four factors help explain the rise of interest groups. The first consists of broad economic
developments that create new interests and redefine old ones.
IV. Second, government policy itself helped create interest groups.
A. Professional societies became important in part because state governments gave to such groups
the authority to decide who was qualified to become a professional.
B. Workers had a difficult time organizing so long as the government, by use of injunctions
enforced by the police and the army, prevented strikes.
C. Unions began to flourish after Congress passed laws in the 1930s that prohibited the use of
injunctions in private labor disputes, that required employers to bargain with unions, and that
allowed a union representing all workers to join it.
V. Third, political organizations do not emerge automatically, even when government policy permits them
and social circumstances seem to require them. Somebody must exercise leadership, often at a
substantial personal cost.
A. These organizational entrepreneurs are found in greater numbers at certain times than others.
They are often young, caught up in social movements, drawn to the need for change, and
inspired by some political or religious doctrine.
B. The more activities government undertakes, the more organized groups there will be that are
interested in those activities.
Kinds of Organizations
I. An interest group is any organization that seeks to influence public policy.
Institutional Interests
I. Institutional interests are individuals or organizations representing other organizations.
A. Individuals or organizations that represent other organizations tend to be interested in the basic
issues of vital concern to their clients.
II. Institutional interests can represent governments, foundations, and universities.
Membership Interests
I. Americans join only certain kinds of organizations more frequently than do citizens of other democratic
countries. Our reputation as a nation arises chiefly out of our tendency to join religious and civic or
political associations.
A. This procivility of Americans to get together with other citizens to engage in civic or political
action reflects a greater sense of political efficacy and a stronger sense of civic duty.
B. This willingness to form civic or political groups is not a product of higher levels of education in
this country.
Incentives to Join
I. To get people to join a mass-membership organization, they must be offered an incentive—something of
value that they cannot get without joining.
II. Solidary incentives are the sense of pleasure, status, or companionship that arises out of meeting
This chapter discusses the various political groups and associations that can form to try to pass specific
legislation that they favor. One of these is interest groups, which can be split into different groups depending
on what kind of interests they represent and how they encourage people to join their organization. There are
many different incentives to join an interest group, and most people need some form of material incentive.
Interest groups can influence social movements. Getting funding is an important issue for interest groups, and
they have devised many different ways to do it, some relying on individuals and some on large groups of
people. Some people fear that the actions of interests groups may unfairly influence the decisions of
legislators, but on the whole this does not appear to be the case.