Poli Sci 2300 - Interest Groups
Monday, January 24, 2011
What are interest groups?
Groups which seek to influence politics. Differ from political parties – one main goal.
Unelected. Political parties want to be elected so they can exert influence. Influence
groups do not seek to take over reigns of power; rather influence government in power.
In democracies, interest groups play a more pervasive role. In developing countries,
interest groups are more controlled.
Theories of Interest Groups
Pluralism - A function of established democracies, traced to the liberal tradition
(influenced by John Locke, John Stuart Mill). Individual should be the focus of analysis,
free from oppression, right to express yourself, etc. Need from decentralized form of
government to prevent concentration of power (ex. Through a federal system, or local
government structure). Need for a system of checks and balances in a political
Dimensions of Pluralism
1. Pluralists believe in diversity (of opinions, viewpoints, etc.).
2. Once individuals have a particular interest, they will organize with the ultimate
goal of trying to influence government, etc.
3. Government is seen as neutral, some form of a level playing field. Tries to ensure
various perspectives will be acknowledged and policy will reflect the needs/wants
Is Pluralism Accurate?
•Some interest groups have more sway than others. Big business exert more
influence than other interest groups – more mobilization power
Neo-Pluralism – Certain groups will exert more influence than others. Playing field isn’t
Economic-Rational Perspective – Maximize utility. Mere fact that people have interests
doesn’t mean people will organize to advance that interest. Could be a factor of laziness,
indifference, free rider problem (public good – not inscrutable and indivisible), etc.
•Ex. National security
•Ex. Walk through a park – just because someone wants clean air doesn’t mean
they want to organize. Assumption that other people will organize on your behalf.
•Undermines the sense of mobilization. How do you avoid the free rider
oSelective incentives – Specific benefits that you wouldn’t get otherwise –
activity becomes important to mobilize
Corporatism – Generally would among Nordic states (Germany, Austria, etc.). How
does their interest group structure work? Unlike pluralist perspective, corporatism
involves three main actors: Labour unions, businesses, government – criticized because it
limits influence of other actors in society. Playing field is again unlevel – non-state actors
What are the types of interest groups?
•Protective Interest Group – ex. Labour Unions, business groups – there to
advance the interests of their members. Exclusive in nature
•Promotional Interest Group – ex. Human rights, MADD, Greenpeace, etc. –
Promotes a single interest
•Anomic Interest Group – Unorganized, spontaneous. Rise out of particular
circumstances to challenge government policy (ex. Prorogation of Parliament,
Tunisia president fleeing to Saudi Arabia – citizens rising up over raising food
•Institutionalized Interest Group – ex. Military, church (ex. Bible Belt region
has extreme conservative viewpoints), schools, etc. – Because they also have
particular viewpoints/perspectives they want to advance.
•Customary Interest Group/Traditional Interest Group – Groups found in
undemocratic/traditional societies. Particular local interests, not as national in
What makes an interest group powerful?
•Money – financial ability to push through issues
•Popularity/Support – Perceived legitimacy of the cause significant in terms of
•Media – Institutional agenda setter – media helps organize/mobilize. Ex. NRA
uses media to promote gun use after the congresswoman was shot
Interest Groups in Practice
Ex. China – Interest groups are supposed to be independent. The government would use
an ideological excuse for not allowing interest groups. It would be invasive, mass line
principle (everything operates in line with the CCP – so no need to have a separate
interest groups). But, there have been pocket groups - ex. Tiananmen Square protest of
Ex. Nigeria – Customary interest groups (based on region, cultural, ethnic beliefs –
localized in nature), Protective interest groups (Niger-Delta Region – mass oil production
– people feel marginalized getting access to government resources, not getting a fair-
share of oil revenue. Form groups to pressure government to reinvest money).