Political Parties and Interest Groups It is difficult to imagine a modern democratic government without political parties. Parties have become so much a part of our concept of a free society that we cannot understand why many of the founding fathers were suspicious and even hostile to them. There is no mention of political parties in the constitution, and George Washington devoted a good portion of his farewell address warning against parties and factions.
Parties, therefore, have earned a high place in the list of fundamental democratic institutions. The basic question, then, is not whether we should have political parties or whether we should have the two-party system. Both of these questions have been answered. The problem is, rather, “Are political parties strong enough to raise the pertinent issues, to pose honest alternatives, and, after the elections are over, to translate campaign promises into legislative realities?’
One view: We need a thorough going revision of the party system. Today’s political parties do not raise the big problems but rather take evasive stands on issues which they cannot avoid.
One development of the last forty years has been the cleavage between presidential party politics (Republicans have won the Presidency in eight out of the last twelve elections). On the other hand, Democrats held a majority in both houses of Congress with few exceptions from the 1930s to the 1990s. The latest exceptions were the 1994 midterm election, and the 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2002 elections (the Senate in 2000 was divided 50-50 between the two parties). During most of this period Democrats have held a majority of the governorships and state legislatures. The confusing picture demonstrates that on the national political scene party loyalty has been, until the 1994 midterm elections, at best a scrambled pattern. In fact, each party has lost membership to those who regard themselves as “independents,” without any deep-seated loyalty to either party. Further complicating the idea of party identity was the exceptionally close presidential election of 2000. Republicans picked up both House and Senate seats in 2002. However, Democrats gained in gubernatorial elections.
Yet the political parties remain an integral part of our political process. They serve as a bonding agent that offers voters a choice of policies and candidates at every level of government. Reports of their decline and disappearance are premature. Although scarred by conflict and unrealized goals, they are nevertheless living institutions, deeply rooted in the American democratic process.
Proposals for reform and rehabilitation abound. Democrats have tried to reach out to minorities while keeping the loyalty of middle and upper class voters. To give the party an up-to-the-minute look they tried and then abandoned midterm conventions. Republicans have been increasingly successful in winning elections in the longtime Democratic “Solid South.” For example, in the 2000 presidential election, Gore lost to Bush in all of the old confederate states (he even lost his home state of Tennessee). They have also been in the vanguard with modern campaign techniques, public opinion polling, and professional help for candidates. Each party dreams of a massive political realignment that will give it a permanent majority. Finally, the reform banning all soft money to the parties, as exemplified by the McCain-Feingold legislation of 2002, may pose new funding difficulties.
So the old political parties are neither dead nor dormant. Each tries to reach out for attractive issues and candidates. Losers in every election lick their wounds and vow to do better next time. Each winner analyzes mistakes and hopes for a greater victory in the next encounter.
Another permanent feature of our political landscape is the division of Americans into contending factions. Much of our political history can be captured in the rise and fall of these groups, their conflicts, and their compromises. Beyond their families, most Americans owe their top loyalty to an economic group, a professional group, an ideological group, and any one of hundreds of other causes that have their own groups. James Madison foresaw and accepted this organization of society two centuries ago. Today interest groups seem to dominate the political scene far more than do political parties.
The modern twist in interest group politics is the growth of PACs. By 1990 they had become a major financial factor in Congressional elections and since most of their money goes to influential incumbents, they have thus become a powerful voice in all legislation. Also, the rise of soft money has further helped incumbents. However, 2002 campaign finance reform legislation banned most forms of soft money.
An important question constantly echoed is: “Are interest groups becoming too strong”?
One opinion: By organizing and using the political process, individuals can be more effective. Further, groups are competitive, and in politics they generally cancel each other.
Dissenting opinion: Interest groups are using money and the mass media to influence and persuade so effectively that older concepts of power are out of date. So are our techniques of control.
Another point of view: The problem is not so much the growing number of interest groups as it is a problem of how they distort the general interest of the nation.
PART IGUIDEPOSTS 1. What Parties Do for Democracy
a. What are the major functions of parties? Evaluate their performance in each category.
b. What three methods have been used by parties to select candidates? Which method is the most common today?
c. Are political parties an appropriate vehicle for social reform?
d. What is the role of third parties?
e. What contributions to American government have third parties made?
f. Why do third parties usually fail? What are the two types of third parties?
2. American Parties Today
a. What characteristics do both major parties share today?
b. How do Americans view political parties today?
c. How are parties organized at the national level? Describe the role of the presidential convention; the national committee; the national party chairperson, and party platforms.
d. What is the role of congressional and senatorial campaign committees?
e. How are parties organized at the state, county and local level?
f. How do political parties operate in the Congress; Executive Branch; Judicial Branch, State and Local Governments?
g. What distinctions have existed historically between Democrats and Republicans? How do they differ today?
h. What are the different ways citizens view party partisanship?
i. How important is party identification?
3. The "Mischiefs of Faction"
a. What is an interest group?
b. Why are they organized?
c. What makes public interest groups distinctive?
4. Types of Interest Groups
a. What are the important economic interest groups?
b. What are the major professional/ideological interest groups?
c. Name three non occupational/public interest groups.
d. What groups are organized to influence foreign policy?
e. Why do single cause interest groups offer a challenge to democracy?
f. Name government/government employee interest groups
5. Characteristics and Power of Interest Groups
a. What advantages do large interest groups have? What weaknesses?
b. How is overlapping membership a limiting factor?
c. What factors contribute to an effective interest group?
d. How do interest groups attract members and get financial support?
e. How do interest groups use each of the following techniques in lobbying: persuasion; elections; litigation; mass/e-mailing; rule making?
f. Why are militia groups a cause for concern?
6. The Influence of Lobbyists
a. How does modern lobbying differ from that of the 1800s?
b. What are the rules for successful lobbying?
c. What skills does a lobbyist need?
7. Money and Politics/2002 Campaign Finance Reform Legislation
a. What is a PAC? How do PACs allocate their contributions?
b. Why is PAC money important in elections/legislation?
c. What was the impact of 2002 on soft money/issue advocacy ads/PACs?
d. How did the 2002 law affect interest groups/individual contributions?
8. Curing the "Mischiefs of Faction"--Two Centuries Later
a. How would Madison react to the modern lobbying scene?
b. What constitutional issue is raised when we try to control interest groups?
c. Why is it difficult for Congress to reform campaign finance?
designations, making it easy for voters to cast votes for all the candidates of one
OFFICE BLOCK BALLOT – Ballot in which all candidates are listed under the office
for which they are running.
NONPARTISAN ELECTION – A local or judicial election in which candidates are not
selected or endorsed by political parties.
SOFT MONEY – Money formerly contributed for party-building purposes and not
disclosed under federal law; banned by McCain-Feingold in 2002.
PATRONAGE - Awarding government jobs to political supporters.
DIRECT PRIMARY - An election in which party members select their candidates for the general election.
OPEN PRIMARY – A primary in which any voter, regardless of party, may vote.
CLOSED PRIMARY – A primary in which only persons registered in the party holding the primary may vote.
CROSSOVER VOTING – A member of one party voting for a candidate of another party.
PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION – An election system in which each party running receives the proportion of legislative seats corresponding to its proportion of the vote.
WINNER-TAKE-ALL – An election system in which the candidate with most votes wins.
THIRD PARTY/MINOR PARTY - A political party that challenges the two traditional parties. This type of party rises and falls with a charismatic candidate or, if composed of ideologies on the right or left, usually persists over time.
REALIGNMENT - A shift of voters from one party to the other.
DEALIGNMENT - A weakening or rejection of the major parties and increase of independents.
HONEYMOON – Period of favorable presidential-press/Congress relationships.
POLITICAL PARTY – An organization that seeks political power by electing people to office so that its positions and philosophy become public policy.
PARTY CONVENTION - A meeting of party delegates to pass on matters of policy and party matters, and in some cases to select party candidates for public office. Conventions are held on county, state, and national levels.
NATIONAL PARTY CONVENTION – A national meeting of delegates elected in primaries, caucuses, or state conventions who assemble once every four years to nominate candidates for president and vice president, ratify the party platform, elect officers, and adopt rules.
PARTY REGISTRATION - The act of declaring party affiliation, in some states required when one registers to vote.
CAUCUS - A closed meeting of party leaders.
PARTY IDENTIFICATION - An informal and subjective affiliation with a political party.
PAC - Political Action Committee organized to influence elections and legislation.
BUNDLING - A PAC tactic whereby contributions are collected from like-minded individuals (each limited to $2000) and presented to a candidate or party as a “bundle,” thus increasing their influence.
OPEN SHOP/CLOSED SHOP - Union membership is not/is a condition of employment.
FREE RIDER - An individual who does not join an interest group but receives the benefits that the interest group obtains.
FEDERAL REGISTER - Official governmental document that lists new and proposed regulations.
INTEREST GROUP - A political group whose members share certain attitudes which exerts influence to achieve its objectives.
LOBBYING - Activities aimed at influencing legislative or administrative decision making.
LOBBYIST – A person who is employed by and acts for an organized interest group or corporation to try to influence policy decisions and positions in the executive and legislative branches.
REVOLVING DOOR - The employment cycle in which individuals work, in turn, for governmental agencies regulating interests and then for the interest groups or businesses with the same policy concern.
IRON TRIANGLE - A mutually supporting relationship among interest groups, congressional committees and subcommittees, and government agencies that share a common policy concern.
AMICUS CURIAE - Translated as “friend of the court.” Such an individual or group cannot initiate a suit, but may give testimony in a pending case. For example, the court might permit the American Civil Liberties Union to file briefs showing the larger applications.
SOFT MONEY – Money raised in unlimited amounts by political parties for part-building purposes. Now largely illegal except for limited contributions to state and local parties for voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Part III — Pretest 1. The percentage of party members who vote together on roll call votes is called
a. patronage. c. proportionality.
b. party unity scores. d. dealignment.
2. Managing the presidential campaign is the job of
a. the national committee. c. the attorney general.
b. the national chairman. d. the presidential press secretary.
3. Candidates are selected by their parties because of
a. party loyalty. c. endorsement by party leaders.
b. personal appeal. d. ideological correctness.
4. When voters may choose what ballot they will vote in a primary, it is called
a. closed. c. realignment.
b. open. d. dealignment.
5. The purpose of a political party is
a. to recruit potential officeholders.
b. to simplify alternatives.
c. to unite the electorate.
d. all of the above.
6. A striking characteristic of third parties is that they
a. advance controversial issues and ideas.
b. are always radical.
c. are always conservative.
d. have no place in the American system.
7. The most significant factor influencing the character of American political parties is
a. the federal system. c. the party seniority system.
b. the national convention. d. the presidential primary.
8. Which of the following is not a present day function of political parties?
a. distribution of welfare handouts
b. stimulation of interest in public affairs
c. recruitment of political leadership
d. linkage between the mass public and government
9. A major cause for the persistence of the two party system in the United States is that
a. the major parties have become disciplined and issue oriented.
b. election districts have a single incumbent.
c. third parties have failed to point up issues.
major party ideas and platform are too much like religious dogma.
10. The loyalty of interest group members is often diminished by their
a. overlapping allegiances. c. limited time.
b. inability to pay dues. d. religious convictions.
11. Nearly all adult Americans belong to a/an _____ interest group.
b. size of membership d. geographical distribution
14. Ralph Nader, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the NAACP have depended heavily upon _____ to influence public policy.
a. litigation c. persuasion
b. direct action d. campaign spending
Part VI — Political Dialogue:
The Clash of Issues and Ideas 1. In our most hotly contested presidential elections nearly half of Americans do not vote. Even in the disputed presidential election of 2000, only 51% voted. This proves the political parties are ineffective. Comment.
2. Interest groups and PACs have for all practical purposes replaced political parties. It is futile to try to revive them. Discuss.
3. George Washington warned against “the baneful effects of the spirit of party” and Jefferson said “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” Were these comments justified, given our 200 years experience with parties?
4. Third parties are living proof that the major parties have failed. Comment.
5. Under what political conditions could a third party candidate ever win the presidency?
6. How will the 2002 campaign finance law affect future campaign funding patterns?
7. Today's pace of social change makes parties useless. They should be scrapped and some other political device substituted. Discuss.
How has the 2002 campaign finance law affected political contributions?
9. Special interest PAC investments in incumbents are rigging our elections and corrupting the political system. The same applies to soft money and issue advocacy. Comment.
10. The present campaign finance system is creating a challenger proof Congress. Very few incumbents lose in congressional elections. Would you join Common Cause to reform the present system?
11. Congressional legislators often claim that they are constantly being badgered by shrill constituents, who demand specific legislation favorable to themselves. These people are fixated only on their own narrow issues, with no concern for the broad voting record of their Congressperson or the general welfare. How should a Congressperson react when confronted by a single interest group in his/her district that flourishes hundred dollar bills and a substantial voting bloc to a candidate?
12. James Madison thought that “factions” were bound to emerge in a democratic society. Why? What antidote did he rely on?
13. Madison was concerned about religious, political and economic factions. What are the key issues and groups today?
14. What is the long-term implication for unionized workers if their key interest groups
15. “Movement Politics is a defensive tactic, used only by those who are politically weak. When any movement gets political clout it becomes even more Establishment oriented than the existing political Establishment and quite prone to ignore minority rights.” Do you agree or disagree with the foregoing statement? Apply your analysis to the Women's movement.
16. The political socialization of persons in movements tends to be more intense than that of persons in run of the mill interest groups. What is meant by consciousness raising? Why does the feeling that one is an outsider, that direct action is needed, or that no compromise can be accepted help to achieve a political socialization that may be in opposition to one's family or social background?
Part VII — Political Science Today 1. Use national news sources to research the question: “Have political parties affected the nomination and confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justices since 1980?” Write an essay to reflect the results of your research.
2. The chapter discusses national party platforms and presents a comparison of the 2000 Democratic and Republican Party Platforms. Commentary was also provided about the compatibility of the Presidential candidates and their respective party platforms. Research the party platforms for the 1980 Reagan-Carter contest or 1992 Clinton-Bush race. Compare the Republican to the Democratic platforms. Were there areas where the presidential candidate and party platform were at odds?
3. How much effect have political parties other than the Democrats and Republicans had on Presidential elections since 1984? Check national newspapers to find out how many candidates actually ran for President in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000 and what proportion of the total vote each candidate garnered. What party did each of the minor candidates represent? If the likelihood for one of these candidates to actually win is small, what purpose might such candidates serve? If time permits, check to see what issue(s) were most important for each candidate. Do you think you would ever vote for a candidate who does not represent either the Republican or Democratic Party? Why/why not?
4. Test the concept of ballot order discussed in the text by reviewing the ballot position for those elected as delegates to either the Republican or Democratic National Convention in 2000 from the congressional district in which your college or university is located. How was the ballot position for the election determined? Write a short essay to present your conclusions.
5. One powerful interest group in America is the NRA—the National Rifle Association. The NRA has always maintained that the right to bear arms is guaranteed by the second Amendment to the Constitution and that individuals, in order to protect their lives, liberties, and property, should confront few restrictions on gun ownership or acquisition. Traditionally, the NRA has been able to influence members of Congress to oppose gun control legislation or to punish those members who support such legislation.
However, during President Clinton’s first term, NRA lobbying failed to stop the passage of the Brady Bill which imposed a seven-day waiting period for the purchase of a handgun and a crime control bill which outlawed the manufacture and sale of nineteen assault weapons. In response to politicians who have increasingly viewed the NRA as extremist, the NRA targeted anti-NRA House and Senate members by funneling millions of dollars to pro-NRA challengers in recent elections.
Determine how effective the NRA-backed candidates were in the 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2002 elections by reviewing national newspapers and periodicals. Finally, research what the NRA reaction was to the April, 1999 Littleton, Colorado school shootings where twelve students and one teacher died. How did the NRA cope with the backlash from those killings and the subsequent school shooting that followed during the next several years?
6. It should be remembered that the clash of interests does not occur solely between or among groups or individuals who are outside of governmental service. A good example of this interaction between a business interest group and a government official occurred in 1989 when the Grumman Corporation fought to save the F 14 fighter from being cut out of the defense budget.
The account of the clash can be found in The New York Times article of July 14, 1989 entitled “F 14; Test of Cheney's Power Against Long Island Lobby” (p. 9) by writer Richard Halloran. Halloran described how then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney wished to stop producing the F 14 in order to reduce the military budget. Conversely, Grumman and congressmen from Long Island (the location of the company) argued that continued production of the plane was “vital to the company's survival and to 5,100 jobs on the Island.” While the House Armed Services Committee voted to continue production, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted not to continue building the plane. Fierce lobbying continued to try and affect the floor votes of each house.
Grumman lobbyists were able to enlist the support of two important Senators, John Glenn of Ohio and John McCain of Arizona. Both Senators insisted that the security of the nation
would be jeopardized if new production were halted. Cheney insisted that at some point in time, production of old weapons must stop and new ones must begin. Cheney, through Pentagon aides, lobbied a large number of congressmen and senators in anticipation of a final decision later in the month.
What happened to the F 14? Check back in The New York Times (use the Index) and find the outcome. Was Grumman or Cheney successful? What reasons can you uncover for the final policy decision rendered by Congress?
7. During the 1990s and into the 2000’s, anti-smoking groups, the President, federal agencies and members of Congress have supported a series of actions aimed at limiting the power of the tobacco industry. Institution of smoking bans in public places, requirements which limit the sale of tobacco products to minors, the designation of tobacco as a drug, and restrictions on advertising which targets minors have resulted from mounting concern over the addictive nature of tobacco, harm caused by second-hand smoke, and the tremendous health care costs associated with tobacco related illnesses. The tobacco interests have consistently contended that smoking is a personal choice and that tobacco industry is an integral part of the nation’s economy.
If you were a member of Congress, would you favor or oppose legislation to impose: (1) a national ban on smoking in all public places including restaurants; (2) a total ban on all cigarette ads; and (3) a $2 increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes to fund health care costs associated with smoking related illnesses. Provide an explanation for your position on each proposal.
8. What kind of personal qualities does it take to be an effective lobbyist for a major interest group? Speculate on those qualities. Researching the backgrounds of real-life lobbyists might help in ascertaining those qualities.
9. Review Vice President Cheney's ties to the energy industry.
Part VIII — Data Analysis
Re-read the discussion about the party unity scores. Use The Congressional Quarterly or another source which distinguishes by party, the votes cast in the U.S. House and Senate to determine the party unity score for legislation related to any two (2) of the following issues: the balanced budget amendment, abortion control, gun control, welfare reform, social security, tax cuts, or the federal budget in 1996, 1997,1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002.
Examine Table 5-4 which provides information on voting behavior of partisans and independents from 1992-2000. What general patterns of behavior can you deduce from the data?
3. Prior to the 1994 mid-term elections, more than 300 Republican candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives signed the “Contract With America.” The “Contract” had ten items the Republicans promised to bring to a vote in 1995, if they were successful in gaining majority control of Congress. How well did the Congressional Republicans do in getting legislation passed to implement the “Contract?” Did the House Democrats support any aspect(s) of the “Contract?” In addition, check to determine whether any of the “Contract” items ended up as part of the Republican Party Platform in 1996 or even 2000.
4. Why did the GOP not gain House seats in the 1998 midterm elections? Research this query. Second, how did the GOP do in the House/Senate in the 2000, 2002 elections?
1. Frequently, one interest group will make demands that conflict with another interest group's wishes. For example, suppose a federal highway is proposed through a picturesque site. The building of a new highway will be favored by construction firms and related labor unions but may be opposed by groups dedicated to preserving the environment.
In a similar fashion, suppose the Federal Highway Transportation Safety Agency announces that it is about to recommend an adjustment to the existing regulation which requires driver and front seat passenger air-bags in all new cars and trucks. Evidence indicates that air bags can be hazardous to children and some adults because they do not fit the standard design
criteria for air bags. The revised regulation would require that an air bag disconnect switch be installed on all new vehicles. Which of the interest groups would be for and against the revised regulation? Why/why not?
(A) automobile manufacturers
(B) consumer rights groups
(C) a safety engineers association
(D) American Medical Association
2. There are a number of factors that determine the political power and effectiveness of each interest group. Some of these factors are size, prestige, financial strength, leadership skills, internal cohesion, and the dedication of opposing interest groups. Think about these and other factors mentioned in the chapter and explain the following situation.
The AFL CIO is certainly one of the largest interest groups in America and also one of the best financed. It maintains a significant number of lobbyists at all levels of government. However, the AFL CIO has never been able to persuade the Congress to pass a comprehensive national health insurance program which it has supported for over a decade. Why has the AFL CIO not been successful in this effort?
Part IX — Test Answers
Pretest 1. b 10. a
2. b 11. d
3. b 12. c
4. b 13. a
5. d 14. a
6. a 15. d
7. a 16. d
8. a 17. b
9. b 18. b
Programmed Review 1. competition 26. television