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Strategies & Influence of Interest Groups on American Politics

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  • 0:03 Strategies of Interest Groups
  • 1:38 Direct Techniques
  • 4:02 Indirect Techniques
  • 5:49 Regulating Interest Groups
  • 7:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
The following lesson will describe the strategies used by interest groups to influence American politics. A short quiz will follow the lesson to check for your understanding.

Strategies of Interest Groups

Was there ever a time when you were young and had a school crush on someone? Maybe you were too nervous to tell that person you liked them and instead asked your friends to go find out for you. Although their goals are more high-stakes than a school crush, interest groups employ some of the same strategies in Congress. Just as you might have used your friends to persuade your crush to like you, interest groups do something similar to persuade government officials to pass favorable legislation on their group's behalf.

In this case, when interest groups use third parties to influence government officials, it is referred to as an indirect technique. Conversely, you could have just as easily gone up to your crush yourself and told them your feelings, and oftentimes interest groups will do the same by directly telling government officials their wishes. When an interest group's activity involves direct interaction with government officials to further the group's goals, it is referred to as a direct technique.

Direct and indirect are general classifications of the techniques used by interest groups, which actually employ a wide range of techniques and strategies to promote their policy goals. Some of the more specific direct strategies that interest groups use include:

  • Lobbying techniques
  • Rating government officials
  • Building alliances
  • Offering campaign assistance

Some of the more specific indirect strategies that interest groups use include:

  • Generating public pressure
  • Using constituents as lobbyists
  • Public protest demonstrations

Direct Techniques

There's a saying that goes, 'If you want something done right, do it yourself.' This is the basic premise behind an interest group using a direct technique of influence. The first main direct technique that an interest group might use is called lobbying.

Lobbying is when a person, called a lobbyist, attempts to directly influence legislation by interacting with government officials. The term comes from a time when private citizens actually congregated in the lobbies of legislative chambers and waited for a time to approach a government official.

Today, lobbying is largely done by professionals working for consulting firms or holding defined positions within interest groups. Some of the direct interactions that a lobbyist might have with a government official include private meetings, testifying at committee and agency meetings, consulting on legislation drafts, and providing political information to legislators on proposed bills.

Interest groups may also attempt to influence the behavior of legislators by publicizing their voting records. Oftentimes a legislator is given a score based on the percentage of times that he or she voted in favor of the group's position. Interested citizens may use this information when voting to re-elect an official, and an unfavorable rating may embarrass a legislator. In fact, an environmental group has identified the 12 representatives who the group believes have the worst voting records on environmental issues and labeled them the 'Dirty Dozen.'

Another direct technique used by interest groups is to form a coalition with other groups concerned about the same legislation. Members of such a coalition share expenses and multiply the influence of their individual groups by combining their efforts. Other advantages of forming a coalition are that it blurs the specific interests of the individual groups involved and makes it appear that larger public interests are at stake. These alliances are also efficient devices for keeping like-minded groups from duplicating one another's lobbying efforts.

One last direct technique strategy used by interest groups is campaign assistance. Assistance can come in a number of forms. Interest groups can donate money, provide volunteer workers for helping with an election campaign, and/or give their endorsement to a candidate for election or re-election. An endorsement from a big interest group, such as a large labor union, could go a long way in helping a candidate win or retain their position.

Indirect Techniques

Interest groups can also try to influence government policy by working through others, who may be constituents of the general public. Indirect techniques are used to mask the interest group's own activities and make the effort appear to be spontaneous. Legislators also tend to look more favorably upon their own constituents rather than an interest group's lobbyist.

In some instances, interest groups try to stimulate a large interest in the public to get them to pressure the government to change something. Such efforts may include political ads, mass mailings, and Internet postings. Interest groups also try keep public pressure in check if they represent a group that is not looked upon favorably. Thus, they may donate money and resources to worthwhile causes to keep their public image favorable.

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