An interest group is an organization that is determined to encourage or halt changes to governmental policy without trying to become elected. They do this by using their membership to pressure the three branches of the federal government in the US; Congress, The President and The Supreme Court. Through them, members of the public can participate in the political system between elections.
They benefit from a wide range of “access points” within the US political system. They can even use a weak and fragmented party system to their advantage while also benefiting from election campaigns that are usually issue-based rather than party-based. In this essay, I aim to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of Interest Groups in US politics. One of the impacts that interest groups have in American politics is that they represent citizens’ interests and views while expressing their grievances.
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They are a significant link between the politician and the public and provide an easy access point through which members of the general public may voice their opinions. For most US citizens, interest groups are a way to express their most robust views and for their views to be represented, such as pro-life groups such as American United for Life. Moreover, their views are represented through all three branches of government, at the federal, state and local levels, not just by one Senator or Representative.
This suggests that interest groups have a positive impact on US politics because they serve as organizations for ordinary Americans to have their views delivered on a governmental scale, which could lead to influencing government policy. Alternatively, another impact of interest groups is that they increase the number of opportunities for American citizens to become involved in the political process between elections because participation in politics is seen as a virtue in the US.
The majority of Americans seek more frequent participation in the democratic process than the two days a year that primaries and elections deliver, while also offering an opportunity for many US members of the public to participate in a specific area of government policy, such as pro-guns or anti-war. This shows that interest groups are beneficial to the US political system because they enable members of the American public to regularly become involved with the democratic process.
On the other hand, a separate impact of interest groups is that they enhance public education on the political system, what could happen if some issues aren’t addressed, and the effects of decisions made by the government. This shows that interest groups have a positive impact on US politics because, as Jeffrey Berry and Clyde Wilcox observe, “interest groups can make people better aware of both policy problems and proposed solutions,” meaning that the citizens become better aware of the outcomes of government policy and their solutions to specific issues within American society.
However, it can also be argued that another impact of interest groups is that they influence the agendas of political parties, bureaucrats and legislators to benefit their members’ interests. It’s argued that they bring together different sections of US society such as religious groups, professional organizations and business groups to work together and achieve an interest shared between them. For example, the manufacturers and distributors of CDs, videotapes and computer software are working together to get the government to understand and pay attention to the threat of piracy of such goods.
This suggests that interest groups are beneficial to American politics because they create a bond between groups in society and advise the government on harmful issues. However, it can also be argued that they are a negative impact on the US political system because the interest group that has the most money or the most influence amongst institutions such as the media is going to have a much more significant impact on agenda building, rather than a group with a low amount of money, even if they have good intentions.
On the contrary, another impact that interest groups have is that they can hold the government accountable when they implement policies to make sure that promises are kept, policies are delivered, and regulations are administered. For example, after the passage of the McCain-Feingold Act (2002), the Campaign Finance Institute authorized a collection of studies by scholars on the law’s effect on the funding of campaigns.
Due to the result of the monitoring, interest groups such as the NRA often bring cases to the state and federal courts, asking the judicial branch of government to keep close checks on the effects of the legislation. This suggests that scrutinizing the government has a beneficial impact on interest groups in the American political system because they enable ordinary citizens to hold government members accountable over legislation that they have passed.
Alternatively, it can be argued that the methods of interest groups also have a significant impact on US politics, for example, lobbying. To assist this method of operation, interest groups usually maintain headquarters in Washington DC, state capitals and other major cities. By doing this, they are on hand to lobby members of federal, state and local government. For example, the Duberstein Group, founded by Kenneth Duberstein, was former White House chief of staff to President Reagan, with headquarters just five blocks west of the White House at 2100 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Furthermore, interest groups also provide legislators with voting cues; for example, Liberal Democrats look to groups such as the AFL-CIO and Americans for Democratic Action to reassure themselves that they are taking a suitable stand on issues. This shows that interest groups are beneficial to the American political system because they assure parties that the stand they are taking on government policies or specific issues will be received with positive feedback from their supporters.
However, some pressure groups such as the ACU and the AFL-CIO publish the regular ratings of legislators, showing how often (or not) a specific legislator has supported the policy positions in line with the views of that particular interest group. This suggests that legislators may feel pressured into voting a certain way on a policy to don’t lose the support (and perhaps financial backing) of an interest group, even if it doesn’t benefit the nation or constituents.
On the other hand, it can be argued that the public relations campaigns that interest groups run to educate people at large have an essential impact on US politics. The publicity can take on many forms; for example, it might even take on a form known as television advertising. For example, the AARP created a television campaign against President George W. Bush’s proposal to reform Social Security to create private retirement accounts.
The group released an ad that showed a demolition crew responding to a complaint of a clogged kitchen drain by knocking down the house. The ad attempted to persuade viewers that the plant that the President had proposed was an overreaction to the more minor problems associated with Social Security. This shows that interest groups have a positive influence on US politics because they can inform the mass population on government policies and how they will affect their lives.