POLI 172 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: National Taxpayers Union, Bowling Alone, Freeriding

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17 Feb 2016
Chapter 6: Interest Groups
Interest Groups
In the United States, nearly every interest has an organization to represent it
oWhatever you do from cradle to grave, there is likely some organized interest that
represents the activity
Organizations that try to achieve their goals with government assistance are interest
An effort of interest groups to influence government decision-making is called lobbying.
oMay involve direct contact between a lobbyist and a government official
oIt may involve indirect action, such as attempts to sway public opinion, which in
turn influence government officials.
People organize and lobby to
oPromote interests
oEnhance their influence
oBut not all groups are equally successful
Founders feared the harmful effects of interest groups
oDidn’t limit them (supported them with the First Amendment)
oFearful of the “mischief’s of fraction” so they created rules and institutions to
make it difficult for a single group to dominate or constantly prevail
Separation of powers
Checks and balances
Americans today complain about interest groups
oSpecial interests
oWary that constitutional checks do not prevent the manipulation of government
decision making
oProduce results that are contrary to the interests of a majority of society or the
society as a whole
Why Interest Groups Form
Groups organize in America for a number of reasons
oConstitutional rights facilitate group formation (First Amendment).
oFederal structure of government (50 state governments and thousands of local
oThe US is racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse
Gives rise to varying interests and conflicting views
oSocial changes, economic pressures, technological developments and
government action—create surges in formation
Historical periods of interest groups formation surges
oRapid industrialization after the Civil War
o1900 and 1920
o1960s and 1970s
Why People Join
Gain influence, but not all people want to join—why?
oLack political efficacy—the belief that one can make a difference
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oSome simply do not want to bear the costs
Dues, time, effort
oMany assume a group will do well even without them; do not contribute, but gain
the benefits
Free-riding/ free-rider problem
So why join?
oBenefits: psychological, social, and economic
Which People Join?
Those with more education and income
oThey tend to be more interested in news and government policies
oCan afford membership dues
oHave free time or flexible schedules that allow them to take part
oIntellectual ability and social skills that enhance their participation
oAlso appear more attractive to many groups and thus will likely be recruited
oMen are somewhat more likely to join than women
oWhites are somewhat more likely to join than blacks
oElderly and middle-aged participate at higher rates than the young
Have People Stopped Joining?
Bowling Alone: documentary on the decline of group membership
oSingle parent families
oWomen’s lives have changed: paid workforce, but also dealing with large share
of housework and child-raising duties
This keeps them away from volunteering – less time and energy
Same for men in some ways; they have taken on more housework and
child-related activities – less time for civic participation
oTechnology enabled us to interact less with others
oHome entertainment; computers
Formal memberships have declined, BUT
Membership in issue advocacy is increasing
oJoin by donating money; checkbook members
Contribute to the cause but don’t interact, face to face, as members of the
Virtual memberships
oNot always the best venue for compromise
Abusive and divisive discussions on Web
Role of anonymity
Types of Interest Groups
Private interest groups
oSeek economic benefits for their members or clients
oMost numerous
oPowerful in the aggregate
oOften oppose government intervention
oEx: pharmaceutical industry
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