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Interest Group

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Sean Grayson

Professor Quackenbush

American Government

An interest group is a group that seeks a collective good, the achievement of

which will not selectively and materially benefit the membership or activists of the

organization. These organizations try to achieve at least some of their goals with

government assistance. The difference between interest groups and political parties is that

political parties seek to constitute the government, whereas interest groups try only to

influence it. Some of the things that interests groups seek from government are

information that affects the interests of the interest group, influence of the

government policy, goodwill of the administrators who carry out the policy, and symbolic

status. Some of the sources of interest group strength are the size of the interest group,

cohesion between the members, geographical distribution, wealth of the members, status

of the group, leadership of the group, and program compatibility. Some of the direct

techniques for gaining influence are lobbying, private meetings, legislative committees,

and bureaucracy. Some indirect techniques are grass roots lobbying, molding public and

elite opinion, and coalition building.

Grass roots lobbying is when the constituency of an interest group-a group's

members, those whom the group serves, friends and allies of the group, or simply those

who can be mobilized whether or not they have a connection to the group-can help in

promoting the group's position to public officials.

Groups use public relations techniques to shape public opinion as well as the

opinions of policymakers. Ads in newspapers and magazines and on the radio and

television supply information, foster an image, and promote a particular policy. A tactic

commonly used by interest groups to influence public opinion is rating members of

Congress. Groups choose a number of votes crucial to their concerns such as abortion,

conservation, or consumer affairs. They then publicize the votes to their members with

the ultimate objective of trying to defeat candidates who vote against their positions.

Coalition building is another form of an indirect lobbying technique. Coalitions

are networks or groups with similar concerns which help individual groups press their

demands. Coalitions demonstrate broad support for an issue and also take advantage of

the different strengths of groups.

The most important function of public interest groups is, to represent the policy

preferences of their constituents. Public interest lobbies form a linkage element between

citizens and governmental elites. In lobbying they articulate what they perceive to be the

issue positions of certain sectors of society. Public interest groups also play an important

role in facilitating the political participation of their members and related attentive

publics. By helping to bring new issues to the table, interest groups influence the shape of

political agendas.

There are three basic reasons why government officials and their staffers will take

the first step in contacting an interest group. First, interest groups may be the target of

efforts to enlist them as supporters of a particular policy position. A member of Congress

or an agency head may feel that a policy he is pushing is not receiving the backing it

should from the private sector. He may try to persuade representatives of interest groups

to become more active on behalf of the cause. Second, interest groups are valuable

sources of political intelligence. They can provide information concerning the lobbying

activities of all other interest groups, pros and cons, on the issue at hand. They can also

act as eyes and ears for their friends in government. Third, people in government may

come to interest groups for the purpose of obtaining substantive data with regard to an

issue. Congressional and agency staffs rarely have time to gather all the information they




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