Recently in 06. Interest Groups and Inequality Category

Interest Group Bonus Points


Thank you all for your participation in today's group activity. It was a tough decision.

Congratulations to the first place team: M-BAG

You had a clearly identified target group, with a reasonable membership fee. In addition, your plan was well thought-out and we liked your multi-pronged strategy of combining dues, advertising, and government lobbying to provide benefits, research, and support.

The following students will receive two points on the attendance and reading quiz grade

  • Marissa P.
  • Kelly K.
  • William B.
  • Chris Z.
  • Anders V.

In second place: SWMD

Your social enterprise model was innovative, though we hope you won't have to charge very high interest rates in order to keep your non-profit going.

The following students will receive one point each:

  • Chet B.
  • Naadha M.
  • Josie S.
  • Matt S.
  • Jan S.
  • Laura L.

Citizens United


Can interest groups improve political participation?


Cigler and Loomis, and to a lesser extent Strolovitch, made the claim that interest groups are a way of opening the political process to new voices. Cigler and Loomis conclude after covering the proliferation of interest groups, for instance with the growing size of the government more interest groups have arisen as well, that interest groups have increased representation. Strolovitch considers the various identities (and policies) promoted through interest groups, in particular how a groups form around a single axis of marginalization without really encompassing the intersectionality of identities. Bartels' work establishes a base where the assertion of Cigler and Loomis of the importance of interest groups in representing groups makes sense. Bartels' research finds that politicians tend to not consider the opinions of the constituents with the lowest income, and over represent those with the highest income. Considering the research of Domhoff we read earlier, it makes sense that the high income people who have established important relationships with people in power (and generally are people in power) would be more well represented. Finally Verba raises a question that is essential to this discussion, what should equal political participation/representation look like? Verba considers the right to participate, the capacity and opportunity to participate, and being heard as the different aspects of political participation.
If low income or other disadvantaged groups are not well represented by their representatives, are powerful interest groups a good alternative as Cigler and Loomis seem to assert? What are the dangers (or advantages) of implementing representation outside of the traditional forms and structures of our 'representative' government? Cigler and Loomis also say that as political parties have decreased in power interest groups have increased in power. Is this true? Can we consider various party and political systems, like the ones outlined in Andolino and Blake, as a solution to reviving parties or institutionalizing interest groups as political parties? Is the catch all party system (Andolino and Blake) weakened because the various identities of all of us are not represented?

Political (under)representation of the disadvantaged


Cigler and Loomis (1991) outline the origins of (interest) group formation and the scope and impact these groups have on public policy formulation. Additionally, they also demonstrate that there are a variety of factors that have resulted in the proliferation of interest groups, including reduced impact of party politics. Bartels (2008) analyses the relationship between political representation and socioeconomic status of constituents as well as access to other factors such as electoral turnout, political information and contact with public officials. More specifically, Bartels analysed the voting pattern of the Senate during the 1980s and early 1990s on specific legislation related to minimum wage, civil rights, government spending and abortion and concludes that senators were more responsive to wealthy constituents than to the constituents of other socioeconomic group. His assertion runs parallel to that of Dumhoff's (1998) claim that elite circles are closely intertwined and therefore have enabled more mechanisms for the upper social class' interest to be represented in political institutions.
Additionally, Strolovitch (2006), through an analysis of policy advocacy of key national organizations, demonstrates that organizations are less active with regard to issues that affect disadvantaged subgroups than they are when it comes issues that effect advantaged subgroups or majority groups. By exemplifying through advocacy surrounding violence against women, affirmative action, and welfare reform, she demonstrates that organizations inflate the impact of issues that affect advantaged subgroups as if they affect a majority and downplay the issues that affect disadvantaged groups as too narrow.
Strolovitch's (2006) analysis echoes Burnsteins' (2003) assertion that more salient issues receive more attention, however her research demonstrates that, there is still a double standard that biases against intersectionally disadvantaged groups. Verba (2003) also highlights that disadvantaged groups are less likely to be politically represented because of socioeconomic conditions.
Given what we can infer from the above research, if interest groups and elected officials are not responsive to the more disadvantaged citizens, what are some mechanisms to enhance the attention that is given to issues specific to the more marginalized communities? Furthermore, given what we know about political and campaign financing, are there reforms that can be undertaken to enhance inclusive participation? Or as Verba (2003) asserts, can this only be achieved if the playing field is levelled in the long term by "reducing socioeconomic inequalities in income, education and access to better jobs"? (pg 674)

Discussion Questions - Inequality

  • Strolovich examines whether or not interest groups represent disadvantaged groups. What additional ways can you think of (or do the other authors this week suggest) to potentially increase representation of these groups or improve political equality in general?
  • Does your response to Verba's question "Would the Dream of Political Equality Turn out to be a Nightmare?" differ from the author's?

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission


Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast.

REFER: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: SCOTUSblog

Former Supreme Court Justice Souter on Citizens United Decision and Freedom of Speech (8:24)

Justice Scalia on Citizens United (2:37)

Inequality and Interest Groups



READ: A Giant Statistical Round-Up of the Income Inequality Crisis in 16 Charts

Larry Bartels on Income Inequality and Social Policy (21:11)


Interest Groups

Public Interest vs. Special Interest

Organized interest groups are a major influence on public policy, and by most measures their numbers and activities have soared since the 1960s (Berry 1997). There are two types of interest groups.

Public Interest Groups:

  • Tend to lobby for activities they believe will benefit the entire population
  • Examples: The Sierra Club, the National Rifle Association, the Christian Coalition, Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Special Interest Groups

  • Support actions that tend to benefit only members of their organization
  • Examples: Groups whose members have a direct economic stake in public policy, such as organized labor, business groups, and professional associations.


Most groups are involved lobbying of some nature. While the unique number of lobbyists has declined from its high point in the mid 00s, the amount of lobby spending has more than doubled since 1998.

REFER: Lobbying Database | OpenSecrets

Some of the Audiences for Lobbyists

The Public: Groups provide information and perspectives on public policy issues. They issue studies, reports, and news releases. They produce advertisements for tv, radio, newspapers and Web pages.

The Legislature: Groups testify in legislative committee hearings. They meet with individual members or their staffs. They urge their members and supporters to write or call legislators.

Executive Branch Agencies: Groups submit studies and recommendations during formal public comment periods on proposed regulations. They frequently and informally communicate with agency officials.

CBS Sunday Morning on Lobbying, ft. Lanny Davis (9:55)

Other Methods of Lobbying

Electioneering: Many groups endorse candidates, contribute money and other resources to their campaigns, and sponsor issue advocacy advertisements that are intended to affect voter opinion on the issues, and the groups hope, their votes.These efforts are aimed at getting people who are sympathetic to the particular group's positions elected and defeating those who oppose its positions.

Litigation: They may file a suit against an agency because of a ruling or regulation and try to get the courts to change the policy. In the late 1990s, for example, the American Trucking Association sued the EPA over its proposed higher standards for ozone and particulate matter, which the association charged would adversely affect the trucking industry. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and the justices affirmed the EPA's regulations.

Steve Ansolabehere on Interest Groups and Money in Politics (16:30)



  • Berry, Jeffrey M. 1997. The Interest Group Society 3rd ed. New York: Longman.
  • Kraft, Michael E. and Scott R. Furlong, 2010. Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.
  • Patterson, Thomas E. 2009. The American Democracy. 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.