Interest Groups - Interest Groups An interest group is any...

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Interest Groups An interest group is any organization that seeks to influence public policy. Interest groups are found in many societies, but there is an unusually large number of them in the United States. This proliferation is a result of: 1. The great number of social cleavages along income, occupational, religious, racial, and cultural lines. 2. The American constitutional system, which stimulates political activity, including interest group activity. Because of federalism and the separation of powers, there exist many different centers in which important decisions are made. Therefore many different interest groups can exercise some power. In Britain, on the other hand, groups are fewer in number and larger in scale (to match the centralized governmental structure). 3. The decline of political parties, which has made the wielding of power by interest groups more practical (because the system is more fragmented) and seemingly more needed. In European countries with strong parties, interest groups-such as labor unions and professional societies-tend to be closely allied to parties. There are two kinds of interest groups: institutional and membership. The former are individuals or organizations representing other groups. Typical of institutional interests are business, governments, foundations, and universities. Membership groups are supported by the activities and contributions of individual citizens. Since 1960 the number of interest groups has increased rapidly. There have been other historical eras of interest group proliferation. These include the 1770s (pro independence groups), the 1830s and 1840s (religious and antislavery groups), the 1860s (trade unions, the Grange, and fraternal organizations), the 1880s and 1890s (business organizations), the 1900s and 1910s (a vast array of organizations), and the 1960s (environmental, consumer, and political-reform organizations). Interest groups do not, therefore, arise spontaneously or automatically out of natural social processes. At least four factors help explain the rise of interest groups. 1. Broad economic developments. For example, the rise of mass-production industry allowed the rise of mass-membership labor unions. 2. Government policy. Public programs create constituencies with an incentive to organize to maintain their benefits. Veterans' benefits create veterans' groups; the licensing of professionals by state governments gives societies of doctors and lawyers a strong reason to exist. Sometimes the government supports the formation of organizations (the American Farm Bureau Federation is an example) by providing benefits to their members. Sometimes government policies are designed to make private interest group formation easier, as was the case with the passage of laws in the 1930s to aid labor.
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3. Religious and moralistic movements. These produce people, frequently young people, who are willing to form organizations, often at large personal cost. The religious revivals of the 1830s and 1840s thus fed the antislavery crusade, and the civil rights and antiwar
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This note was uploaded on 12/14/2009 for the course GOVT 32 taught by Professor Lind during the Spring '09 term at École Normale Supérieure.

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Interest Groups - Interest Groups An interest group is any...

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