A History of Interest Groups and Political Parties in American Politics



President Lyndon Johnson signs a gun-control law in 1968—passed with the N.R.A / Public Domain


Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh / 03.09.2018
Historian
Brewminate Editor-in-Chief


1 – Introduction

1.1 – Constitutional Right to Petition the Government

The Supreme Court has ruled that petitioning the government by way of lobbying is protected by the Constitution as free speech.

The ability of individuals, groups, and corporations to lobby the government is protected by the right to petition in the First Amendment. It is protected by the Constitution as free speech; one accounting was that there were three Constitutional provisions which protect the freedom of interest groups to “present their causes to government”, and various decisions by the Supreme Court have upheld these freedoms over the course of two centuries. Corporations have been considered in some court decisions to have many of the same rights as citizens, including their right to lobby officials for what they want. As a result, the legality of lobbying took “strong and early root” in the new republic.

Value or Price

In 1953, after a lawsuit involving a congressional resolution authorizing a committee to investigate “all lobbying activities intended to influence, encourage, promote, or retard legislation,” the Supreme Court narrowly construed “lobbying activities” to mean only “direct” lobbying–which the Court described as “representations made directly to the Congress, its members, or its committees”. It contrasted it with indirect lobbying: efforts to influence Congress indirectly by trying to change public opinion. The Court rejected a broader interpretation of “lobbying” out of First Amendment concerns, and thereby affirmed the earlier decision of the appeals court.

Using the Courts: Drawing on the First Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court has protected lobbying as free speech in numerous rulings since the early republic.

In support of the power of Congress it is argued that lobbying is within the regulatory power of Congress, that influence upon public opinion is indirect lobbying, since public opinion affects legislation; and that therefore attempts to influence public opinion are subject to regulation by the Congress. Lobbying, properly defined, is subject to control by Congress,… But the term cannot be expanded by mere definition so as to include forbidden subjects. Neither semantics nor syllogisms can break down the barrier which protects the freedom of people to attempt to influence other people by books and other public writings…. It is said that lobbying itself is an evil and a danger. We agree that lobbying by personal contact may be an evil and a potential danger to the best in legislative processes. It is said that indirect lobbying by the pressure of public opinion on the Congress is an evil and a danger. That is not an evil; it is a good, the healthy essence of the democratic process….—Supreme Court decision in Rumely v. United States

1.2 – Interest Groups

Greenpeace: Greenpeace is a non-governmental environmental organization with offices in over forty countries and with an international coordinating body in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Greenpeace states its goal is to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity” and focuses its campaigning on world wide issues such as global warming, deforestation, overfishing, commercial whaling, and anti-nuclear issues. Greenpeace uses direct action, lobbying, and research to achieve its goals.

The term interest group refers to virtually any voluntary association that seeks to publicly promote and create advantages for its cause. It applies to a vast array of diverse organizations. This includes corporations, charitable organizations, civil rights groups, neighborhood associations, professional, and trade associations. Advocacy groups use various forms of advocacy to influence public opinion and/or policy; they have played and continue to play an important part in the development of political and social systems.

Groups vary considerably in size, influence, and motive; some have wide ranging long term social purposes, others are focused and are a response to an immediate issue or concern. Motives for action may be based on a shared political, faith, moral, or commercial position. Groups use varied methods to try to achieve their aims including lobbying, media campaigns, publicity stunts, polls, research, and policy briefings. Some groups are supported by powerful business or political interests and exert considerable influence on the political process, while others have few such resources.

Some interest groups have developed into important social, political institutions or social movements. Some powerful Lobby groups have been accused of manipulating the democratic system for narrow commercial gain. In some instances, they have been found guilty of corruption, fraud, bribery, and other serious crimes; lobbying has become increasingly regulated as a result. Some groups, generally ones with less financial resources, may use direct action and civil disobedience, and in some cases are accused of being domestic extremists or a threat to the social order. Research is beginning to explore how advocacy groups use social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action.

There are many significant advocacy groups throughout history, some of which operate with different dynamics and could better be described as social movements. There are some notable groups operating in different parts of the world. For example, Greenpeace is a non-governmental environmental organization with offices in over forty countries and with an international coordinating body in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Greenpeace states its goal is to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity” and focuses its campaigning on worldwide issues such as global warming, deforestation, overfishing, commercial whaling, and anti-nuclear issues.

In some instances, advocacy groups have been convicted of illegal activity. Major examples include: 1) Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal Corrupt and fraudulent lobbying in relation to Native American gambling enterprises; 2) Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement between the Attorneys General of 46 states and the four largest US tobacco companies who agreed to pay $206 billion over the first twenty-five years of the agreement.

1.3 – Organization of Interest Groups

Interest groups can come in varied forms and organize under different methods.

A Special Interest Group (SIG) is a community with particular interest in advancing a specific area of knowledge, learning or technology.Members cooperate to affect or to produce solutions within their particular field, and may communicate, meet, and organize conferences. They may, in some cases, also advocate or lobby on a particular issue or on a range of issues but they are generally distinct from advocacy and pressure groups which are normally set up for the specific political aim; this distinction is not firm however and some organizations can adapt and change their focus over time. Public policy, in general, is a dynamic interplay of decisions between the President, Congress and interest groups.

Organizations may also have Special Interest Groups which are normally focused on a mutual interest or shared characteristic of a subset of members of the organization. An important example for this are trade unions, educational unions, and labor unions.

National Educators Association: The NEA is a prominent and powerful interest group

Much work has been undertaken by academics in trying to categorize how pressure groups operate, particularly in relation to governmental policy creation.

The field is dominated by several differing schools of thought:

  1. Pluralism: This is based upon the understanding that pressure groups operate in competition with one another and play a key role in the political system. They do this by acting as a counterweight to undue concentrations of power. However, this pluralist theory (formed primarily by American academics) reflects a more open and fragmented political system similar to that in countries like the United States. Under neo-pluralism, a concept of political communities developed that is more similar to the British form of government
  2. Neo-Pluralism: This is based on the concept of political communities in that pressure groups and other similar bodies are organised around a government department and its network of client groups. The members of this network co-operate during the policy making process.
  3. Corporatism: Some pressure groups are backed by private businesses that have heavy influence on the legislature.

1.4 – Characteristics of Members

Membership interests represent individuals for social, business, labor, or charitable purposes to achieve political goals.

1.4.1 – Introduction

NRA Headquarters: The headquarters of the NRA, an interest group, located in Fairfax Virginia, USA. The NRA represents an interest group advocating for the rights to own weapons under the Second Amendment of the United States.

An interest group is a group of individuals who share common objectives, and whose aim is to influence policymakers. Institutional interests are organizations that represent other organizations, whose rules and policies are custom-fit to the needs and wants of the organizations they serve. This includes the American Cotton Manufacturers (which represents the generally congruous southern textile mills) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which represents the multitude of wants of American businesses).

Membership interests are organizations that represent individuals for social, business, labor, or charitable purposes, in order to achieve civil or political goals. This includes the NAACP(represents African-American interests), the Sierra Club (represents environmental interests), the NRA (represents Second Amendment interests, ), and Common Cause (represents interests in an increase in voter turnout and knowledge). Membership includes a group of people that join an interest group and unite under one cause. They may or may not have an opinion on some of the issues the staff pursues. Similarly, staff are the leaders of this group that heads up the membership. With the membership united under one cause, the staff has the ability to pursue other issues that the membership may disagree on, but will remain members united by the primary cause.

1.4.2 – Benefits and Incentives

The general theory is that individuals must be enticed with some type of benefit to join an interest group. Known as the free rider problem, it refers to the difficulty of obtaining members of a particular interest group when the benefits are already reaped without membership. For instance, an interest group dedicated to improving farming standards will fight for the general goal of improving farming for every farmer, even those who are not members of that particular interest group. Thus, there is no real incentive to join an interest group and pay dues if the farmer will receive that benefit anyway. Interest groups must receive dues and contributions from its members in order to accomplish its agenda. While every individual in the world would benefit from a cleaner environment, an Environmental protection interest group does not, in turn, receive monetary help from every individual in the world.

Selective material benefits are benefits that are usually given in monetary benefits. For instance, if an interest group gives a material benefit to their member, they could give them travel discounts, free meals at certain restaurants, or free subscriptions to magazines, newspapers, or journals. Many trade and professional interest groups tend to give these types of benefits to their members. A selective solidary benefit is another type of benefit offered to members or prospective members of an interest group. These incentives involve benefits like “socializing congeniality, the sense of group membership and identification, the status resulting from membership, fun and conviviality, the maintenance of social distinctions, and so on. A solidary incentive is one in which the rewards for participation are socially derived and created out of the act of association.

An expressive incentive is another basic type of incentive or benefit offered to being a member of an interest group. People who join an interest group because of expressive benefits likely joined to express an ideological or moral value that they believe in. Some include free speech, civil rights, economic justice, or political equality. To obtain these types of benefits, members would simply pay dues, donating their time or money to get a feeling of satisfaction from expressing a political value. Also, it would not matter if the interest group achieved their goal; these members would merely be able to say they helped out in the process of trying to obtain these goals, which is the expressive incentive that they got in the first place. The types of interest groups that rely on expressive benefits or incentives would be environmental groups and groups who claim to be lobbying for the public interest.

1.4.3 – Collective Action

Mancur Lloyd Olson, a leading American economist, sought to understand the logical basis of interest group membership and participation. The reigning political theories of his day granted groups an almost primordial status. Some appealed to a natural human instinct for herding, others ascribed the formation of groups that are rooted in kinship to the process of modernization. Olson offered a radically different account of the logical basis of organized collective action. In his first book, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (1965), he theorized that “only a separate and ‘selective’ incentive will stimulate a rational individual in a latent group to act in a group-oriented way”; that is, members of a large group will not act in the group’s common interest unless motivated by personal gains.

1.5 – Motivations behind the Formation of Interest Groups

Members comprising interest groups join for solidarity, material, or purposive incentives.

1.5.1 – Introduction

The general theory is that individuals must be enticed with some type of benefit to join an interest group. Known as the free rider problem, it refers to the difficulty of obtaining members of a particular interest group when the benefits are already reaped without membership. For instance, an interest group dedicated to improving farming standards will fight for the general goal of improving farming for every farmer, even those who are not members of that particular interest group. Thus, there is no real incentive to join an interest group and pay dues if the farmer will receive that benefit anyway. Interest groups must receive dues and contributions from its members in order to accomplish its agenda. A collective good refers to something of value that cannot be withheld from a nonmember of a group. To illustrate the free rider problem and collective goods, take environmental groups who advocate for a cleaner environment. While every individual in the world would benefit from a cleaner environment, an environmental protection interest group does not, in turn, receive monetary help from every individual in the world.

1.5.2 – Types of Benefits and Incentives

Protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention: A purposive incentive refers to a benefit that comes from serving a cause or principle; people who join because of these are usually passionate about the cause or principle.

Selective material benefits are benefits that are usually given in monetary benefits. For instance, if an interest group gives a material benefit to their member, they could give them travel discounts, free meals at certain restaurants, or free subscriptions to magazines, newspapers, or journals. Many trade and professional interest groups tend to give these types of benefits to their members. A selective solidary benefit is another type of benefit offered to members or prospective members of an interest group. These incentives involve benefits like socializing congeniality, the sense of group membership and identification, the status resulting from membership, fun and conviviality, the maintenance of social distinctions, and so on. A solidary incentive is one in which the rewards for participation are socially derived and created out of the act of association.

Demonstration against Ahmadinejad in Rio: An expressive incentive is another basic type of incentive or benefit offered to being a member of an interest group. People who join an interest group because of expressive benefits likely joined to express an ideological or moral value that they believe in.

An expressive incentive is another basic type of incentive or benefit offered to being a member of an interest group. People who join an interest group because of expressive benefits likely joined to express an ideological or moral value that they believe in. Some include free speech, civil rights, economic justice, or political equality. To obtain these types of benefits, members would simply pay dues, donating their time or money to get a feeling of satisfaction from expressing a political value. Also, it would not matter if the interest group achieved their goal. These members would merely be able to say they helped out in the process of trying to obtain these goals, which is the expressive incentive that they got in the first place. The types of interest groups that rely on expressive benefits or incentives would be environmental groups and groups who claim to be lobbying for the public interest. A purposive incentive refers to a benefit that comes from serving a cause or principle; people who join because of these are usually passionate about the cause or principle.

1.5 – The Function of Interest Groups

An advocacy group is a group or an organization that tries to influence the government but does not hold power in the government.

1.5.1 – Introduction

Health News Watchdog: Media watchdogs ensure that media coverage is factually accurate and as objective as possible.

An advocacy group is a group or an organization that tries to influence the government but does not hold power in the government. A single-issue group may form in response to a particular issue area sometimes in response to a single event or threat. In some cases initiatives initially championed by advocacy groups later become institutionalized as important elements of civic life (for example universal education or regulation of doctors). Groups representing broad interests of a group may be formed with the purpose of benefiting the group over an extended period of time and in many ways; examples include Consumer organizations, Professional associations, Trade associations and Trade unions.

1.5.2 – Activities

Advocacy groups exist in a wide variety of genres based upon their most pronounced activities. Anti-defamation organizations issue responses or criticisms to real or supposed slights of any sort by an individual or group against a specific segment of the population that the organization exists to represent. Watchdog groups exist to provide oversight and rating of actions or media by various outlets, both government and corporate. They may also index personalities, organizations, products and activities in databases to provide coverage and rating of the value or viability of such entities to target demographics.

Support Public Libraries Advocacy: Advocacy groups seek to influence government policy. In cases such as public libraries, advocacy groups have been critical in lobbying for continued funding across the nation.

Lobby groups work for a change to the law or the maintenance of a particular law and big businesses fund very considerable lobbying influence on legislators, for example in the U.S. and in the U.K. where lobbying first developed. Legal defense funds provide funding for the legal defense for, or legal action against, individuals or groups related to their specific interests or target demographic. This is often accompanied by one of the above types of advocacy groups filing Amicus curiae if the cause at stake serves the interests of both the legal defense fund and the other advocacy groups.

1.6 – Interest Groups vs. Political Parties

Advocacy groups exert influence on political parties, mostly through campaign finance.

1.6.1 – Political Parties

Political parties are lobbied vigorously by organizations, businesses, and special interest groups such as trades unions. A party or its leading members may be offered money or gifts-in-kind. These donations are the traditional source of funding for all right-of-center cadre parties. Starting in the late 19th century, these parties were opposed by the new founded left-of-center workers’ parties. They started a new party type, the mass membership party, and a new source of political fundraising, membership dues.

1.6.2 – Social Movements

Social movements are a type of group action. They are large informal groupings of individuals or organizations which focus on specific political or social issues. In other words, they carry out, resist or undo a social change. Political science and sociology have developed a variety of theories and empirical research on social movements. For example, some research in political science highlights the relation between popular movements and the formation of new political parties as well as discussing the function of social movements in relation to agenda setting and influence on politics.

1.6.3 – Advocacy Groups

In most liberal democracies, advocacy groups tend to use the bureaucracy as the main channel of influence. In liberal democracies, bureaucracy is where the decision-making power lies. Advocacy groups can also exert influence on political parties, and have often done so. The main way groups exert their influence is through campaign finance. In the UK, the conservative party’s campaigns are often funded by large corporations, as many of the conservative party’s campaigns reflect the interests of businesses. In the US, George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004 was the most expensive campaign in American history. It was financed mainly by large corporations and industrial interests. In contrast to the conservative right, left-wing parties are often funded by organized labor. When the Labor Party was first formed, it was largely funded by trade unions. Similarly, political parties are often formed as a result of group pressure. For example, the Labour Party in the UK was formed out of the new trade-union movement, which lobbied for the rights of workers.

George W. Bush: George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004 was largely funded by special interest groups such as financial banks and large industrial corporations.

More often than not, lobbying coalitions enter into conflict with each other. For example, in the issue of free trade, some corporate lobbyists seek to eliminate or dismantle tariffs, promoting free trade and the free movement of goods and services. By contrast, lobbyists representing farmers and rural interests seek to maintain or reinforce existing tariffs. It is in their best interest to preserve the status quo. If tariffs are reduced or eliminated, then American farmers are forced to compete with farmers from other trading countries. As these coalitions enter into conflict, congressmen must choose how to vote in the face of different pressures from different constituencies.

2 – Interest Group Strategies

2.1 – Direct Lobbying

Direct lobbying is used to influence legislative bodies directly via communication with members of the legislative body.

Direct lobbying refers to methods used by lobbyists to influence legislative bodies through direct communication with members of the legislative body, or with a government official who participates in formulating legislation.

Direct Lobbying: Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are subject to direct lobbying tactics by lobbyists.

During the direct lobbying process, the lobbyist introduces to the legislator information that may supply favors, may otherwise be missed or makes political threats. A common use of direct lobbying is to persuade the general public about a ballot proposal. In this case, the public is considered to be the legislator. This aspect of direct lobbying attempts to alter the legislature before it is placed on the ballot. Communications regarding a ballot measure are also considered direct lobbying. Direct lobbying is different from grassroots lobbying, a process that uses direct communication with the general public, which, in turn, contacts and influences the government.

Washington, D.C. is the home to many firms that employ these strategies. Lobbyists often attempt to facilitate market entry through the adoption of new rules, or the revision of old ones. They also remove regulatory obstacles for a company looking to grow, while also stopping others from attaining regulatory changes that would harm a company’s cause.

Meta-analysis reveals that direct lobbying is often used alongside grassroots lobbying. There is evidence that groups are much more likely to directly lobby previous allies rather than opponents. Allies are also directly lobbied if a counter lobby is brought to light. When groups have strong ties to a legislator’s district, they will use a combination of grassroots and direct lobbying, even if the legislator’s original position does not support theirs. When strong district ties are not present, groups will rely on direct lobbying with committee allies.

2.2 – Direct Techniques

Lobbyists employ direct lobbying in the United States to influence United States legislative bodies through direct interaction with legislators.

2.2.1 – Introduction

Washington D.C., Lobbyist Central: As Washington D.C. is the seat of the United States Federal Government, it attracts a high concentration of lobbyists.

Direct lobbying in the United States consists of methods used by lobbyists to influence the United States legislative bodies. Interest groups from many sectors spend billions of dollars on lobbying. There are three lobbying laws in the U.S. that require a lobbying entity to be registered, allow nonprofit organizations to lobby without losing their nonprofit status, require lobbying organizations to present quarterly reports, places restrictions on gifts to U.S. Congress members, and makes it mandatory for earmarks to be disclosed in expenditure bills. Revolving door, when a former federal employee becomes a lobbyist and vice-versa, occurs in the direct lobbying sector.

2.2.2 – Theory

Lobbying is a common practice at all levels of legislature. Direct lobbying is done either through direct communication with members or employees of the legislative body, or with a government official who participates in formulating legislation. During the direct lobbying process, the lobbyist introduces statistics that will inform the legislator of any recent information that might otherwise be missed, and may make political threats or promises, and/or grant favors. Communications regarding a ballot measure are also considered direct lobbying. Direct lobbying is different from grassroots lobbying, a process that uses direct communication with the general public, who in turn contact and influence the government.

The most common goals of lobbyists are:

  • to facilitate market entry through the adoption of new rules, or the repeal or revision of old ones.
  • to remove regulatory obstacles that prevent the growth of a company.
  • to stop others from attaining regulatory changes that would harm the business of one’s company’s or one’s cause.

Direct lobbying is often used alongside grassroots lobbying. When groups have strong ties to a legislator’s district, those groups will use a combination of grassroots and direct lobbying, even if the legislator’s original position does not support theirs, which may help groups expand their coalitions. When strong district ties are not present, groups tend to rely on direct lobbying with committee allies.

2.2.3 – Spending

In 2010, the total amount spent on lobbying in the U.S. was $3.5 billion. The top sectors for lobbying as of 2010 are financial, insurance, and real estate, with $4,405,909,610 spent on lobbying. Health is the second largest sector by spending, with $4,369,979,173 recorded in 2010.

Spending on Lobbying: This graph compares the number of lobbyists with the amount of lobby spending.

The oil and gas sector companies are among the biggest spenders on lobbying. During the 2008 elections, oil companies spent a total of $132.2 million into lobbying for law reform. The three biggest spenders from the oil and gas sector are Koch Industries (1,931,562), Exxon ( ), and the Mobil Corporation (1,192,361).

2.2.4 – Lobbying Laws

2.2.4.1 – Lobbying Disclosure Act

The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Under a January 1, 2006 revision, the act requires the registration of all lobbying entities with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives. The registration must occur within 45 days after the individual lobbyist makes a first plan to lobby. Penalizations include fines of over $50,000 and being reported to the United States Attorney.

2.2.4.2 – Public Charity Lobbying Law

The Public Charity Lobbying Law gives nonprofit organizations the opportunity to spend about 5% of their revenue on lobbying without losing their nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service. Organizations must elect to use the Public Charity Law, and so increase the allowable spending on lobbying to increase to 20% for the first $500,000 of their annual expenditures. Another aspect to the law is the spending restrictions between direct lobbying and grassroots lobbying—no more than 20% can be spent on grassroots lobbying at any given time, while 100% of the lobbying expenditures can be on direct lobbying.

2.2.4.3 – Honest Leadership and Open Government Act

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act was signed on September 15, 2007 by President Bush, amending the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995. The bill includes provisions that require a quarterly report on lobby spending by organizations, places restrictions on gifts to Congress members, provides for mandatory disclosure of earmarks in expenditure bills, and places restrictions on the revolving door in direct lobbying.

2.2.5 – Revolving Door

Revolving door is a term used to describe the cycling of former federal employees into jobs as lobbyists, while former lobbyists are pulled into government positions. Government officials with term limits form valuable connections that could help influence future law-making even when they are out of office. The other form of the revolving door is pushing lobbyists into government positions, developing connections, and returning into the lobbying world to use said connections. A total of 326 lobbyists are part of the Barack Obama Administration. In the past, 527 lobbyists were part of the Bush Administration, compared to 358 during the Clinton Administration.

2.3 – Indirect Techniques

Grassroots lobbying asks the public to contact legislators concerning the issue at hand, as opposed to going to the legislators directly.

2.3.1 – Grassroots Lobbying

Grassroots lobbying, or indirect lobbying, is a form of lobbying that focuses on raising awareness for a particular cause at the local level, with the intention of influencing the legislative process. Grassroots lobbying is an approach that separates itself from direct lobbying through the act of asking the general public to contact legislators and government officials concerning the issue at hand, as opposed to conveying the message to the legislators directly.

The unique characteristic of grassroots lobbying, in contrast to other forms of lobbying, is that it involves stimulating the politics of specific communities. Interest groups, however, do not recruit candidates to run for office. Rather, they choose to influence candidates and public officials using indirect tactics of advocacy.

2.3.2 – Tactics

The main two tactics used in indirect advocacy are contacting the press (by either a press conference or press release), and mobilizing the mass membership to create a movement.

2.3.3 – Media Lobbying

Grassroots lobbying oftentimes implement the use of media, ranging from television to print, in order to expand their outreach. Other forms of free media that make a large impact are things like boycotting, protesting, and demonstrations.

2.3.4 – Social Media

The trend of the past decade has been the use of social media outlets to reach people across the globe. Using social media is, by nature, a grassroots strategy.

2.3.5 – Mass Movements

Mobilizing a specific group identified by the lobby puts pressure on the legislature to address the concerns of this group. These tactics are used after the lobbying group gains the public’s trust and support through public speaking, passing out flyers, and even campaigning through mass media.

2.3.6 – Trends

Trends from the past decade in grassroots lobbying include an increase in the aggressive recruitment of volunteers, as well as starting campaigns early on, before the legislature has made a decision. Also, lobbying groups have been able to create interactive websites and utilize social media (including Facebook and Twitter) to email, recruit volunteers, assign them tasks, and keep the goal of the lobbying group on track.

2.3.7 – Regulations

Bill of Rights: The First Amendment rights of free speech, freedom of association, and freedom of petition protect lobbying, including grassroots lobbying.

Lobbying is protected by the First Amendment rights of speech, association, and petition. Federal law does not mandate grassroots lobbying disclosure, yet 36 states regulate grassroots lobbying. There are 22 states that define lobbying as direct or indirect communication to public officials, and 14 additional states that define it as any attempt to influence public officials. A group or individual classified as a lobbyist must submit regular disclosure reports; however, reporting requirements vary from state to state. Some states’ disclosure requirements are minimal and require only registration, while other states’ requirements are extensive, including the filing of monthly to quarterly expense reports, which include all legislative activity relevant to the individual or groups activities, amounts of contributions and donations, and the names and addresses of contributors and specified expenses. Penalties range from civil fines to criminal penalties if regulations are not complied with.

2.4 – Cultivating Access

Access is important and often means a one-on-one meeting with a legislator. Getting access can sometimes be difficult, but there are various means one can try: email, personal letters, phone calls, face-to-face meetings, meals, get-togethers, and even chasing after congresspersons in the Capitol building. One lobbyist described his style of getting access as “not to have big formal meetings, but to catch members on the fly as they’re walking between the House and the office buildings..”

Cultivating Access: Connections count: Congressperson Tom Perriello with lobbyist Heather Podesta at an inauguration party for Barack Obama.

When getting access is difficult, there are ways to wear down the walls surrounding a legislator. Lobbyist Jack Abramoff explains:

Access is vital in lobbying. If you can’t get in your door, you can’t make your case. Here we had a hostile senator, whose staff was hostile, and we had to get in. So that’s the lobbyist safe-cracker method: throw fundraisers, raise money, and become a big donor. —Abramoff in 2011

One of the ways in which lobbyists gain access is through assisting congresspersons with campaign finance by arranging fundraisers, assembling PACs, and seeking donations from other clients. Many lobbyists become campaign treasurers and fundraisers for congresspersons. This helps incumbent members cope with the substantial amounts of time required to raise money for reelection bids; one estimate was that Congresspersons had to spend a third of their working hours on fundraising activity. PACs are fairly easy to set up; all they require is a lawyer and about $300.

An even steeper possible reward which can be used in exchange for favors is the lure of a high-paying job as a lobbyist. According to Abramoff, one of the best ways to “get what he wanted” was to offer a high-ranking congressional aide a high-paying job after they decided to leave public office. When such a promise of future employment was accepted, according to Abramoff, “we owned them”. This helped the lobbying firm exert influence on that particular congressperson by going through the staff member or aide. At the same time, it is hard for outside observers to argue that a particular decision, such as hiring a former staffer into a lobbying position, was purely as a reward for some past political decision, since staffers often have valuable connections and policy experience needed by lobbying firms. Research economist Mirko Draca suggested that hiring a staffer was an ideal way for a lobbying firm to try to sway their old bosses—a congressperson—in the future.

2.5 – Mobilizing Public Opinion

Increasingly, lobbyists seek to influence politics by putting together large coalitions and using outside lobbying to sway public opinion.

In 1953, following a lawsuit that included a congressional resolution that authorized a governmental committee to investigate “all lobbying activities intended to influence, encourage, promote, or retard legislation,” the Supreme Court narrowly construed “lobbying activities” to mean only “direct” lobbying. The Court defined this “direct” method of lobbying as “representations made directly to the Congress, its members, or its committees”. It contrasted this with indirect lobbying, which it defined as efforts to influence Congress indirectly by trying to change public opinion.

Mobilizing Public Opinion: Large health notices on tobacco products is one way in which the anti-smoking lobby and the government have tried to mobilize public opinion against smoking.

Increasingly, lobbyists seek to influence politics by putting together coalitions and by utilizing outside lobbying to mobilize public opinion on issues. Larger, more diverse, and more wealthy coalitions tend to be more effective at outside lobbying (the “strength in numbers” principle often applies). These groups have been defined as “sustainable coalitions of similarly situated individual organizations in pursuit of like-minded goals. ” According to one study, it is often difficult for a lobbyist to influence a staff member in Congress directly, because staffers tend to be well-informed, and because they frequently hear views from competing interests. As an indirect tactic, lobbyists often try to manipulate public opinion which, in turn, can sometimes exert pressure on congresspersons, who must frequently appeal to that public during electoral campaigns. One method for exerting this indirect pressure is the use of mass media. Interest groups often cultivate contacts with reporters and editors and encourage these individuals to write editorials and cover stories that will influence public opinion regarding a particular issue. Because of the important connection between public opinion and voting, this may have the secondary effect of influencing Congress. According to analyst Ken Kollman, it is easier to sway public opinion than a congressional staff member, because it is possible to bombard the public with “half-truths, distortion, scare tactics, and misinformation. ” Kollman suggests there should be two goals in these types of efforts. First, communicate to policy makers that there is public support behind a particular issue, and secondly, increase public support for that issue among constituents. Kollman asserted that this type of outside lobbying is a “powerful tool” for interest group leaders. In a sense, using these criteria, one could consider James Madison as having engaged in outside lobbying. After the Constitution was proposed, Madison wrote many of the 85 newspaper editorials that argued for people to support the Constitution. These writings later came to be known as the Federalist Papers. As a result of Madison’s “lobbying” effort, the Constitution was ratified, although there were narrow margins of victory in four of the states.

Lobbying today generally requires mounting a coordinated campaign, which can include targeted blitzes of telephone calls, letters, and emails to congressional lawmakers. It can also involve more public demonstrations, such as marches down the Washington Mall, or topical bus caravans. These are often put together by lobbyists who coordinate a variety of interest group leaders to unite behind a hopefully simple, easy-to-grasp, and persuasive message.

2.6 – Using Electoral Politics

A number of interest groups have sought out electoral politics as a means of gaining access and influence on broader American policies.

Lyndon LaRouche: LaRouche was the leader of the National Caucus of Labor Committees, an interest group that later developed a distinct political party that nominated LaRouche for president of the U.S

All electoral politics are interest politics in some sense. Over the course of American history, a number of interest groups have sought out electoral politics as a means of gaining access and influence on broader American policies. One example of an interest group using electoral politics is the National Caucus of Labor Committees (NCLC).

The NCLC is a political cadre organization in the United States, founded and controlled by political activist Lyndon LaRouche, who has sometimes described it as a “philosophical association. ”

In 1972, the NCLC launched the U.S. Labor Party (USLP), a registered political party, as its electoral arm. In 1976, they nominated LaRouche for President of the United States on the Labor Party ticket, along with numerous candidates for lower office. In 1979, LaRouche changed his political strategy to allow him to run in the Democratic primaries, rather than as a third party candidate. This resulted in the USLP being replaced by the National Democratic Policy Committee (NDPC) a political action committee unassociated with the Democratic National Committee.LaRouche is the NCLC’s founder and the inspiration for its political views. (For more information on these views see the article “Political Views of Lyndon LaRouche,” as well as the main article titled “Lyndon LaRouche. ” An overview of LaRouche’s organizations is in “LaRouche movement. “) The highest group within the NCLC is the “National Executive Committee” (NEC), described as the “inner leadership circle” or “an elite circle of insiders” that “oversees policy. ” The next most senior group is the “National Committee” (NC), which is reportedly “one step beneath the NEC. ”

3 – Types of Interest Groups

3.1 – Business and Economic Interest Groups

3.1.1 – Introduction

Economic interest groups advocate for the economic benefit of their members, and business interests groups are a prominent type of economic interest group.

Interest groups represent people or organizations with common concerns and interests. These groups work to gain or retain benefits for their members, through advocacy, public campaigns and even by lobbying governments to make changes in public policy. There are a wide variety of interest groups representing a variety of constituencies.

3.1.2 – Economic Interest Groups

Economic interest groups are one of the five broad categories of interest groups in the US. These groups advocate for the economic interest and benefits of their members. Economic interest groups are varied, and for any given issue there will be a large number of competing interest groups. Categories of economic interest groups include those representing business, labor, professional and agricultural interests.

3.1.3 – Business Interest Groups

US Chamber of Commerce: This banner celebrating both jobs and free enterprise hung outside of the US Chamber of Commerce to commemorate the groups hundredth year.

Business interest groups generally promote corporate or employer interests. Larger corporations often maintain their own lobbyists to work on behalf of their specific interests. Companies and organizations will also come together in larger groups to work together on general business interests.

Umbrella organizations such as the US Chambers of Commerce (USCC) work around general business interests. While the name might suggest that this is a government agency, the USCC represents various business and trade organizations, and was formed as a counterbalance to the growing power of the labor movement in 1912. The USCC uses a wide variety of strategies and tactics in its work including lobbying or representation, and monitoring various laws and programs. USCC’s work is at times more partisan; for example, it might endorse a specific candidates.

Another example of an umbrella business interest group is the US Women’s Chamber of Congress (USWCC). The USWCC’s work could be described as agenda setting, as their work representing women in business attempts to bring attention to an issue that had been neglected. Like other business interest groups, USWCC will work though legal and lobbying to gain benefits for its constituency.

Because of how numerous and well funded business interest groups tend to be, there is always a concern that they are interfering with, rather than enhancing, the democratic process.Another example of an umbrella business interest group is the US Women’s Chamber of Congress (USWCC). The USWCC’s work could be described as agenda setting, as their work representing women in business attempts to bring attention to an issue that had been neglected. Like other business interest groups, USWCC will work though legal and lobbying to gain benefits for its constituency.

3.2 – Labor Interest Groups

Labor interest groups advocate for the economic interests of workers and trade organizations.

3.2.1 – Introduction

May Day Marches: May 1st is traditionally a day for protests and celebration for labor interest groups. In the US there is now also a focus on immigration and labor rights.

Labor interest groups are a type of economic interest group. Economic interest groups advocate for the economic benefit of their members and constituents. There are a wide variety of types of economic interest groups, including labor groups which advocate on behalf of individual workers and trade organizations. In addition to representing their members, unions also often organize opportunities for direct citizen participation, along with public education and lobbying.

3.2.2 – History of Labor Interest Groups

Some of the earliest unions in the US were formed by women in the textile industry in cities such as Lowell, Massachusetts. The National Labor Union (NLU) was the first American federation of unions formed in 1866. In these early days, unions lobbied against dangerous work conditions and for regulations around the work conditions of women and children. They also pushed for an eight hour work day and the right to strike.

The strength of labor interest groups continued in the 19th century. One example was the American Federation of Labor, a large umbrella group made up primarily of locals involved in craft unionism. While labor was more disorganized during the 1920s, the period during and right after WWII saw a continued growth of unions including the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The CIO was built around an industrial unionism model. These two major unions merged in 1955 to form the AFL-CIO.

Unions have had an uneven history with women and people of color. Some early unions, for example, specifically banned members who were Chinese or of Chinese decent. The Pullman’s union and the United Farm Workers unions are examples of unions that came together to advocate for the economic interests of African-American and latino workers.

3.2.3 – Decline of Private Labor Interest Groups

With the reduction of manufacturing jobs in the US, the number of people represented by unions has fallen. Also, legislation such as the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act made it harder to organize by allowing individual states to ban “closed-shops. ” These are workplaces in which all new employees are required to join a union. Twenty-three states have such laws in place; these are the so-called “right-to-work” states.

While private union membership has declined, public unions are still quite strong. While only 7% of workers in the private sectors belong to unions, 31% of federal workers, 35% of state workers, and 46% of local government employees belong to unions.

3.2.4 – New Kinds of Organizing

Even as traditional labor interest groups are seeing their numbers fall, there are new groups developing around new constituencies of workers who are outside of the mainstream workforce. Some examples include the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Domestic Workers United and the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), which represent low-wage workers. These groups focus on member education as well as advocacy and public education, ensuring their members are aware of the rights that they are already entitled to as well as organizing around new economic benefits.

Another example is the Freelancers Union which provides health care for members who are independent workers. Many of these workers are high-skilled or creative workers who are not eligible for workplace related benefits. This union also works as an agenda building organization, bringing attention to the challenges of freelance workers including the high tax burden for independent workers.

3.3 – Professional Interest Groups

Journal of the America Medical Association: The first edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Today it is the most widely read medical journal in the world.

Professional interest groups are another type of economic interest group. Economic interest groups advocate for the economic benefit of their members and constituents. There are many types of economic interest groups, including professional interest groups which organize and represent professional workers. While trade unions represent skilled and industrial labor, professional organizations represent skilled workers such as doctors, engineers, and lawyers.

These groups advocate for the economic interests of their members. They groups often set the rules for membership in their organizations. This includes rules about certification and conduct including professional codes of ethics. Professional organizations also provide direct economic benefits to their members. These benefits include access to personal or professional insurance as well as professional development opportunities.

One critique of professional organizations is that they serve to increase the income of their membership without any added value or service.

An example of a professional interest group is the American Medical Association (AMA), which represents doctors and medical students throughout the United States. The AMA conducts significant amounts of member and public education work, including publishing the Journal of the America Medical Association. It also carries out a substantial amount of charity work. Its broad mission is to promote the art and science of medicine for the betterment of the public health. However, it is also committed to advancing the interest of physicals, including economic interests. The AMA often lobbies on behalf of its members. For example, the AMA lobbied in campaigns against Medicare during the 1950’s and 1960’s. While the AMA now supports Medicare it did opposed attempts to create a national health care system. Another campaign that is directly related to economic interests is one to limit the damages awarded in medical malpractice suits.

3.4 – Agricultural Interest Groups

Economic interest groups are varied. For any given issue, there will be large number of competing interest groups. Categories of economic interest groups include those representing business, labor, professional, and agricultural interests.

Agricultural interest groups represent the economic interests of farmers. These interests include business and agricultural extension concerns, as well as matters of local, national, and even international policy. These include crop prices, land use zoning, government subsidies, and international trade agreements.

There is a long history of agricultural interest groups in the United States. An example is the American Farm Bureau Federation which was founded in 1911. As a result of the majority of the country’s rural history, agricultural concerns have long been of great importance. Specifically, the vision of the yeoman farmer was one of the important American archetypes moving into the progressive era.

Today, agricultural interest groups are often divided among themselves. There are various types of farms and farmers in the U.S. that often have conflicting interests. For example, a policy that is beneficial to large scale agribusiness might be highly damaging for small, family farms.

Farmers Market: Small farmers are just one part of the larger group of farmers involved in agricultural interest groups.

Agricultural interest groups range from large agribusiness, to groups such as the Farm Bureau representing mid-sized and commodity crop farmers, to the Farmers Market Coalition which advocates for policies that would benefit local farm production.

Organizations such as the Farmers Market Coalition represents a fairly new type of agricultural interest group. These are the groups advocating for policies that would support the renewal of small and local agriculture. One example are advocacy around the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program/Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. These programs provide fresh, locally produced fruits and vegetables for participants in other government nutritional subsidy programs. By sourcing local foods these programs also provide direct economic benefits for local farmers.

3.5 – Environmental Interest Groups

Environmental interest groups are generally public-interest groups, as their work benefits a wider community beyond their own active membership. These groups advocate around conservation and ecological issues. Interest groups in general are groups represent people or organizations with common concerns and interests. These groups work to gain or retain benefits for their members, or to make general changes for the public good.

There is a long history of conservation and early forms of environmentalism in the US. Some early conservationists were members of the transcendental movement which developed in the 1830s, and represented a general rejection of the rise in urbanization in the US. They advocated for meaningful and consistent interactions with nature, often employing poetic language to describe their ideals for a human environmental relationship. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were both part of this movement.

Today environmental interests groups are extremely varied, and while they all share some concern for conversation or the environment, many hold conflicting views about levels of conservation versus for example stewardship, and about appropriate strategies for pursuing their interests.

Some of the different types of environmentalism include the conservation movement, mostly focused on preserving land for sustainable use; the environmental justice movement that developed as a reaction to environmental racism in the US and particular in urban areas; the ecology movement, focused on human relationships and responsibilities to the environment; and bright green environmentalism, which looks at technological and design solutions to environmental question.

Love Canal: This 1978 protest at Love Canal was one of the early events in the environmental justice movement.

Each of these groups will use different strategies including scientific research, and public education as well as lobbying and litigation. Environmental groups are also known for their use of *direct action* techniques. These actions range from the work of Greenpeace in disrupting nuclear tests, or whaling to removing genetically modified crops to groups such as the Earth Liberation Front who take a more radical approach and regularly conduct destructive actions as a part of their work.

There are criticisms of environmental interest group including the concern that not all of their claims are scientifically sound, and the complaint that environmental actions or regulations will disrupt business.

On the other hand some business groups have also taken up environmental causes, with business practices and promotion geared towards members and supporters of environmental interests. However other businesses have started to greenwash their products, leading environmental and consumer interest groups to pressure governments to regulate environmental product claims.

3.6 – Consumer Interest Groups

Interest groups represent people or organizations with common concerns and interests. These groups work to gain or retain benefits for their members, or to make general changes for the public good. Consumer Interest Groups focus on the issues and interests of consumers.

Consumers: Consumer Interest Groups represent, protect, and inform consumers.

Consumer Interest Groups can be considered public-interest groups since their work benefits consumers rather than providing exclusive economic benefits to a closed set of members.

These groups focus on a number of different issues that include product safety, price issues, and consumer notification. They employ a variety of strategies– from lobbying to public campaigns. In these ways Consumer Interest Groups protect and represent consumers. They also provide important checks and balances to business interests, make market exchanges more transparent, and help consumers make more informed choices.

Two examples of consumer groups concerned with a broad range of consumer goods are the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Consumer Union, who publishes the Consumer Reports. The BBB works to advance marketplace trust by publishing business reviews and providing a dispute resolution process. This process allows consumers with conflicts or complaints regarding a particular business receive arbitration through the BBB. Consumer Reports is known for its rigorous product testing including side-by-side comparison of similar products. Consumer Reports also continues to do lobbying work around issues such as telecommunications and mass media, health care, and product safety.

Consumer Interest Groups can also be single-issue interests groups. In a very different vein from the example above, the British Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is one of the oldest and largest single-issue consumer interest groups in the UK. They work to promote quality, choice, and value. They support small pubs with a community focus, promote traditional beers and ciders, and seek to improve licensing permits.

3.7 – Ideological Interest Groups

3.7.1 – Introduction

Interest groups represent people or organizations with common concerns and interests. These groups work to gain or retain benefits for their members, or to make general changes they perceive to be for the public good. Interest groups work through advocacy, public campaigns, and even directly lobbying governments to change public policy. There are a wide range of ideological interest groups that represent many different constituencies.

3.7.2 – Types of Ideological Interest Groups

Leaders of NOW: National Organization for Women (NOW) founder and president Betty Friedan; NOW co-chair and Washington, D.C., lobbyist Barbara Ireton; and feminist attorney Marguerite Rawalt.Ideological interest groups often work on a variety of specific issues, with their work driven by deeply held beliefs. The ideology, or collective beliefs, of any given group might range from regressive or conservative, to liberal or libertarian, or to progressive or radical.

Some examples of ideological interest groups include the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Taxpayers Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Christian Coalition. Each organization has an ideological point of view that determines which specific issues or campaigns they get involved in and which side of an issue they take. Additionally, these organizations use a variety of strategies including public education, representation, member participation, and advocacy with governments that includes lobbying and litigation.

NOW is an example of an ideological interest group. It is a liberal feminist organization, and its main mission is advocating for equality and full societal participation for women. However, NOW also works on a number of other issues. The current priorities for NOW include constitutional equality, violence against women, diversity/racism, abortion rights/reproductive issues, lesbian rights, and economic justice.

On the other hand, the Christian Coalition favors a conservative Christian ideology. The stated goal of the organization is to represent Christians who support a traditional family point of view.The group works on a variety of more specific issues such as disputing abortion, improving traditional education, and lowering taxes.

Some groups fall between being single issue groups or ideological interest groups. Examples include the National Rifle Association (NRA), a gun rights advocacy group, or AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), an LGBTQ group advocating around AIDS research and health. While both focus on one main unifying issue, their advocacy work is also driven by larger ideological concerns.

3.8 – Public Interest Groups

Public interest groups: Public interest groups advocate for issues that impact the general public, such as education.

Interest groups represent people or organizations with common concerns and interests. These groups work to gain or retain benefits for their members, or to make general changes for the public good. Interest groups work through advocacy, public campaigns, and even lobbying governments to make changes in public policy. There are a wide variety of interest groups representing a variety of constituencies. For example, public interest groups work on issues that impact the general public, rather than a select group of members. These groups advocate for their ideals of general good, or common well-being. Some of the issues a public interest group might address include health, the environment, and the political system.

One of the challenges, or criticisms, of public interest groups is the difficulty in defining a single idea of the public good in a society that values pluralism, such as the United States. Because of this difficulty, even when there is consensus around the good of a broad topic, the work of a single public interest group might still be controversial.

An example is in education where most agree that education is a public good, but there are strong disagreements over how to achieve that, or over what sort of education would be best. Groups like the National Education Association, a teachers union and general public interest group, might still be seen by some as primarily promoting teachers’ rights. While a program such as the charter school program might be seen as weakening public schools.

Another challenge for public-interest groups is the so-called free rider effect. Because the benefits brought about by public interest groups benefit a large group of individuals, there is less direct incentive for people to become involved in an organization’s work since they will still gain from the work even if they remain inactive.

3.9 – Single-Issue Interest Groups

National Rifle Association (NRA) Headquarters: The NRA is one of the best known, and arguably the most influential single-issue interest group in the US.

Interest groups use various forms of advocacy in order to influence public opinion and/or policy. Interest groups work through advocacy, public campaigns, and even lobbying governments to make changes in public policy. There are a wide variety of interest groups representing a variety of constituencies.

As the name suggests, these are groups that focus all of their energy on a single defining issue. Their membership is often quite devoted to the issue, and motivated by personal experiences or to participation in ongoing social movements. There are a growing number of single-issue interest groups in the US. These groups focus on a diverse array of issues including abortion, taxation, and animal rights. Because of their singular focus these groups are known for the intensity of their lobbying.

An example of a single-issue interest group is Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which was formed by a mother whose teenaged daughter was killed by a drunk driver. The organization now lobbies heavily to stop drunk driving as well as supporting the victims of drunk driving and preventing underage drinking.

Another example is the National Riffle Associate (NRA, ), which is also, arguably, the best known and most influential single-issue interest group on the United States. The NRA lobbies in favor of the right of individuals to own and use fire arms. It also lobbies against any laws that its members and leadership see as abridging this right or invading the privacy of gun owners. The NRA spent $10 million dollars campaigning during the 2008 presidential election. Some see this as proof that the NRA has too much influence in government, while others would simple describe it as evidence of the broad support for the organization. However you interpret the actions of the NRA, they have been successful in their efforts, since the United States has the least restrictive gun laws of any country in the Global North.

3.10 – Governmental Interest Groups

3.10.1 – Introduction

Government interest groups are a unique form of interest groups that represent the interests of government to other governments. City and state governments, for example, might lobby in Washington to pursue their goals and gain benefits. In many cases local governments are seeking more funding to carry out their work and responsibilities. This support often comes in the form of federal grants. At other times local governments may advocate for increased direct decision making powers, and control over new policy areas.

As with other interest groups many government interest groups also conduct work in public education and media campaigns in addition to their direct advocacy work.

3.10.2 – U.S. Government Interest Groups

The practice of local governments lobbying the federal government started with the New Deal during which an attempt was made to organize the distribution of funds and programs during that period. Since then local governments have continued their efforts. Major gains were made in the 1960s and 1970s, especially around social program funding.

New Deal Programs: These women are learning new skills in a Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) program in Pennsylvania during the Great Depression. FERA was part of the New Deal federal funding to state and local governments.

However, and particularly with President Reagan’s move towards what was known as New Federalism, there has been a move to shrink the size of the federal government and also federal grants. States and cities are now stuck between wanting continued support for their work, and wanting to be free of federal regulations.

Some government interest groups in the US include the National League of Cities, the National Conference of Mayors, and the National Governors Association.

3.10.3 – The International Lobby

Additionally, foreign governments may send representatives to make their case with Congress and the executive branch. Again, the support they seek might be direct finding through aid, but might also involve economic arrangements such as trade deals including free trade arrangements or reduction of US tariffs.

4 – Regulating Interest Groups

4.1 – Regulating Congressional Lobbyists

The United States generally requires a systematic disclosure of lobbying, and it may be one of the few countries to have such extensive requirements. Disclosure in one sense allows lobbyists and public officials to justify their actions under the banner of openness and with full compliance of the law. The rules often specify how much a lobbyist can spend on specific activities, and how to report expenses. Many of the laws and guidelines are specified in the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.

Clearly defining who is a “lobbyist” and what precisely are lobbying activities can sometimes be difficult. According to the Lobbying Disclosure Act, several authorized definitions include: Lobbying activities means “lobbying contacts and efforts in support of such contacts, including preparation and planning activities, research and other background work that is intended, at the time it is performed, for use in contacts, and coordination with the lobbying activities of others. ” Lobbying contact means “any oral or written communication (including an electronic communication) to a covered executive branch official or a covered legislative branch official.”

Distinguishing lobbyists from a strategic adviser can still be difficult, since the duties of each can often overlap and are hard to define precisely. There have been issues raised about what constitutes the difference between a lobbyist and a bundler. One report described bundlers as “supporters who contribute their own money to a campaign and solicit it from others. ” There was a question whether such persons were really lobbyists involved with raising campaign monies for the election of Barack Obama, and whether Obama had broken his own pledge not to receive money from lobbyists.

The legal ramifications of lobbying are further inter-tangled with aspects of campaign finance reform, since lobbyists often spend time seeking donations for the reelection efforts of congresspersons. Sorting out these issues can pose ethical challenges. There are numerous regulations governing the practice of lobbying, often ones requiring transparency and disclosure. People paid to lobby must register with the secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House of Representatives within 45 days of contacting a legislator for the first time, or 45 days after being employed. An exception is that lobbyists who earn less than $3,000 per client for each fiscal quarter, or whose total lobbying expenses are less than $11,500 each quarter, do not need to register. Part-time lobbyists are exempt from registering unless they spend more than 20% of their working hours doing lobbying activities in any quarter. If lobbyists have two or more contacts with a legislator as a lobbyist, then they must register. Requirements for registering also apply to companies that specialize in lobbying, or ones that have an in-house lobbyist, particularly if they spend more than $11,500 on lobbying.

Laws requiring disclosure have been more prevalent in the twentieth century. In 1946, there was a so-called “sunshine law” requiring lobbyists to disclose what they were doing, on whose behalf, and how much they received in payment. The resulting Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act (1946) governed lobbying rules up until 1995 when the Lobbying Disclosure Act replaced it. In 2002, the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 later amended the law to the McCain Feingold Act, which contained rules governing campaign contributions. Lobbying law is a constantly evolving field; the American Bar Association published a book of guidelines in 2009 with over 800 pages.

American Bar Association: The American Bar Association published a book about lobbying regulations.

Lobbyists sometimes support rules requiring greater transparency and disclosure: “Our profession is at a critical point where we can either embrace the constructive changes and reforms by Congress or we can seek out loopholes and continue the slippery slide into history along side the ranks of snake oil salesmen.” —Lobbyist Gerald S. J. Cassidy, 2007.

Supporters for regulating lobbying hold the view that existing regulations designed to rein in the excesses of lobbying have not been effective, and that reforms and regulations have not cleaned up the system at all. Jack Abramoff said lobbyists could “find a way around just about any reform Congress enacted. ” He gave the following example: You can’t take a congressman to lunch for $25 and buy him a hamburger or a steak or something like that… But you can take him to a fund-raising lunch and not only buy him that steak, but give him $25,000 extra and call it a fund-raiser — and have all the same access and all the same interactions with that congressman. A similar view suggested that lobbying reform efforts have been “fought tooth and nail to prevent its passage” since the people with the power to reform would curtail their own powers and income flows.

4.2 – Regulating Executive Branch Lobbyists

Lobbying the Executive Branch is similar to any other branch of the U.S. government and is regulated by laws pertaining to disclosure.

Most lobbying during the nineteenth century happened within state legislatures. While the federal government had a larger jurisdiction, it did not handle many matters pertaining to the economy. The state governments did much more legislating than the federal government. When lobbying did happen, it was often “practiced discreetly” with little or no public disclosure. By one account, more intense lobbying in the federal government happened from 1869 to 1877 during the administration of President Grant near the start of the so-called Gilded Age. The most influential lobbyists wanted railroad subsidies and a tariff on wool. At the same time in the Reconstruction South, lobbying was intense near the state legislatures, especially regarding railroad subsidies, but it also happened in other areas, such as gambling. For example, Charles T. Howard of the Louisiana State Lottery Company actively lobbied state legislators and the governor of Louisiana for the purpose of getting a license to sell lottery tickets.

President Grant: President Ulysses S. Grant was in office during a period of more intense lobbying in the federal government between 1869 and 1877.

But, it was not until the 20th century that lobbying the Executive Branch really emerged as a widespread issue with several new political trends in the government, including:

  • Expensive campaigns. Winning reelection meant spending huge sums on expensive media, particularly television advertising. Congresspersons seeking reelection found themselves having to spend much of their time raising money instead of governing. In 1976, the average cost of running for a House seat was 86,000. By 2006, it was 1.3 million. Running for Senate was even pricier, with an average cost in 2006 of $8.8 million.
  • Increased Complexity. This was partly the result of a continuing shift of legislative authority from state governments to Washington and partly the result of new technologies and systems. It became difficult for voters or watchdog groups to monitor this activity since it became harder to follow or even comprehend. Complexity encouraged more specialized lobbying, often with more than one agency affected by any one piece of legislation. It also encouraged lobbyists to become familiar with the intricate details and history of many issues. Executive branch agencies added a new layer of rule-making to congressional legislation. The economy expanded.

In many ways, lobbying the Executive Branch is similar to any other branch of the U.S. government and is thereby regulated by laws pertaining to disclosure discussed in Regulation Congressional Lobbyists. However, it is true that many executive branch agencies have the power to write specific rules and are a target of lobbying. Federal agencies, like the State Department, make rules to give aid money to countries like Egypt. In fact, an Egyptian-American businessman named Kais Menoufy organized a lobby to try and halt U.S. aid to Egypt.

Further complicating the relationship between lobbying and the Executive Branch is the fact that it is possible for one level of government to lobby another level. The District of Columbia, seeking better voting rights for its citizens, has been lobbying Congress and the president for greater power—including possible statehood or voting representation in Congress. An assessment in 2011 suggested that the district needed to rethink its lobbying strategy, since its past efforts have only had “mixed results.”

4.3 – Results of the 1946 Act

The Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act of 1946 was a statute enacted by the United States Congress that was intended to reduce the influence of lobbyists on the government.

There is general agreement that money is a key variable in lobbying. This has been viewed as problematic, because it allows those with the most financial resources to influence government more than those who possess less money. The Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act of 1946 was specifically crafted to deal with this issue. The act defined lobbying as an activity, and thus created the legal conditions for the behavior to be regulated by the government.

Lobbying for Pay: There is general agreement that money is a key variable in lobbying.

The provisions of the act define lobbying in the following manner:

Section 308 states that, “any person who shall engage himself for pay, or for any consideration, for the purpose of attempting to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation by the Congress of the United States shall, before doing anything in furtherance of such object, register with the Clerk of the House of Representatives and the Secretary of the Senate and shall give to those officers in writing and under oath, his name and business address, the name and address of the person by whom he is employed, and in whose interest he appears or works, the duration of such employment, how much he is paid and is to receive, by whom he is paid or is to be paid, how much he is to be paid for expenses, and what expenses are to be included. ”

Section 307 further describes what is regulated. “The Provisions of this act apply to any person (except a political committee as defined in the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, and duly organized State or local committees of a political party), who by himself, or through any agent or employee or other persons in any manner whatsoever, directly or indirectly, solicits, collects, or receives money or any other thing of value to be used principally to aid, or which the principal purpose of which person is to aid, in the accomplishment of influencing, directly or indirectly, the passage or defeat of any legislation by the Congress of the United States. ”

Lobbyists claimed that the Regulation of Lobbying Act was unconstitutional on the grounds that it was vague and unclear. In a 1954 case (United States v. Harriss), the Supreme Court made its voice heard on the issue. The Court upheld the act’s constitutionality, but it also narrowed the scope and application of the act. The Supreme Court ruled that the act applied only to paid lobbyists who directly communicated with members of Congress, and only when that communication regarded pending or proposed federal legislation. This meant that lobbyists who visited with congressional staff members, rather than members of Congress themselves, were not considered lobbyists. In addition, the act only monitored attempts to specifically influence the passage or defeat of legislation in Congress, and thus excluded other congressional activities or communication between officials and lobbyists. Finally, the Court also ruled that the act only applied to individuals who spent at least half of their time lobbying. This set basic occupational limits as to who would be affected by the law.

4.4 – The Reforms of 1995

4.4.1 – Introduction

The Lobbying and Disclosure Act of 1995 (2 U.S.C. § 1601) was legislation aimed at bringing a level of accountability to federal lobbying practices in the United States. This law was then amended substantially by the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007. Under provisions which took effect on January 1, 2006, lobbyists are required to register with the Clerk of the House of Representatives and the Secretary of the Senate. Failing to do so is punishable by a civil fine of up to $50,000. The Clerk and Secretary must refer any acts of non-compliance to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.

4.4.2 – Bill Provisions

Senator Christopher Dodd: Senator Christopher Dodd, while pointing out gaps in the 1995 lobbying reform, was himself implicated in controversy surrounding his role as Chairman of the Senate Banking committee and his relationship with Countrywide Financial

Definitions: The LDA defines a number of provisions attempting to maintain a degree of transparency in the activities of lobbyists. The legislation defines a client as: “…any person or entity that employs or retains another person for financial or other compensation to conduct lobbying activities on behalf of that person or entity. A person or entity whose employees act as lobbyists on its own behalf is both a client and an employer of such employees….”. The legislation also includes lobbyists that are affected: “The term “lobbyist” means any individual who is employed or retained by a client for financial or other compensation for services that include more than one lobbying contact, other than an individual whose lobbying activities constitute less than 20 percent of the time engaged in the services provided by such individual to that client over a six month period. ” Also included in the legislation are the definitions of what actions must be disclosed, which includes lobbying to certain members of the Executive Branch who are included on specific payrolls. Also included are members of Congress.

Loopholes: The legislation does not include those lobbyists whose “activities constitute less than 20 percent of the time engaged in services”, thus failing to regulate grassroots (small donors) lobbying. The LDA includes a number of other “thresholds” that define what must be recorded. Any organization that contributes more than $10,000 towards lobbying activities must also be registered. Amounts even slightly below this threshold are exempt from reporting. The outline for registration includes “name, address, business telephone number, and principal place of business of the registrant, and a general description of its business or activities;” as well as for the client. The register must also include a statement of what issues the registrant expects to lobby or what may have already been lobbied.

After recording, the records are maintained by the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate. Due to severe understaffing, these two offices are unable to check for illegal activities or corrupt practices. This is the significant failure of this bill. During a hearing before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, Senator Christopher Dodd stated that “[s]ince 2003, the Office of Public Records has referred over 2,000 cases to the Department of Justice, and nothing’s been heard from them again.”

4.5 – Lobbying Scandals and the Reforms of 2007

Closing the Revolving Door: As the former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services and lobbyist for the Podesta Group in 2009, Ellen Haas represents the revolving door phenomenon that the 2007 lobbying reforms sought to address.

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 is a law of the United States federal government that amended parts of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995. It strengthens public disclosure requirements concerning lobbying activity and funding, places more restrictions on gifts for members of Congress and their staff, and provides for mandatory disclosure of earmarks in expenditure bills. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush on September 15, 2007.

Details of the bill include closing the revolving door, prohibiting senators from gaining undue lobbying access by increasing the “cooling off” period before they can lobby Congress from one to two years, prohibiting cabinet secretaries and other senior executive personnel from lobbying the department or agency in which they worked for two years after they leave their position, and prohibiting senior Senate staff and officers from lobbying contacts with the entire Senate for one year, instead of just their former employing office. The bill also includes numerous other prohibitions and requirements including:

  • Prohibits senior House staff from lobbying their former office or committee for one year after they leave House employment.
  • Requires that executive and legislative branch employees who leave government positions and seek to lobby on behalf of Native American tribes face the same revolving door provisions as others.
  • Exempts those who serve as elected or appointed officials of Native American tribes.
  • Prohibits members of Congress and their staff from influencing hiring decisions of private organizations on the sole basis of partisan political gain.
  • Subjects those who violate this provision to a fine and imprisonment for up to 15 years.
  • Prohibits gifts by lobbyists.
  • Prohibits lobbyists from providing gifts or travel to members of Congress with knowledge that the gift or travel is in violation of House or Senate rules.
  • Full public disclosure of lobbying activity.
  • Requires lobbyist disclosure filings to be filed twice as often, by decreasing the time between filing from semi-annual to quarterly.
  • Requires lobbyist disclosures in both the Senate and House to be filed electronically and requires creation of a public searchable Internet database of such information.Increases civil penalty for knowing and willful violations of the Lobby Disclosure Act from 200,000 and imposes a criminal penalty of up to five years for knowing and corrupt failure to comply with the Act.
  • Requires the Government Accountability Office to audit annually lobbyist compliance with disclosure rules.
  • Requires lobbyists to certify they have not given gifts or travel that would violate Senate or House rules.
  • Requires the disclosure of businesses or organizations that contribute more than 15,000 semiannually in campaign contributions for any federal elected official, candidate (including Senate, House and Presidential), or leadership PAC.
  • Requires lobbyists to disclose to the Secretary of the Senate and the House Clerk their campaign contributions and payments to Presidential libraries, Inaugural Committees or entities controlled by, named for or honoring members of Congress.
  • Includes congressional pension accountability.

Unlike previous lobbying regulations, the 2007 reforms also made an attempt to amend House ethics rules in the following ways:

  • Requires disclosure of employment negotiations by members and staff.
  • Prohibits members from engaging in any agreements or negotiations about future employment until a successor has been selected unless the member files a statement with the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct; and requires that members recuse themselves from any matter in which there is a conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict.
  • Requires senior staff to notify the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct within three days if they engage in negotiations or agreements for future employment or compensation.
  • Requires that members prohibit their staff from having any lobbying contact with the Member’s spouse if such individual is a registered lobbyist or is employed or retained by a registered lobbyist to influence legislation.
  • Requires that travel by members financed by outside groups be posted on a searchable, sortable and downloadable website by August 1, 2008. Requires that members’ financial disclosure forms be posted on a searchable, sortable and downloadable website by August 1, 2008.
  • Prohibits members from attending parties held in their honor at national party conventions if they have been sponsored by lobbyists, unless the member is the party’s presidential or vice presidential nominee.

4.6 – Obama vs. the Lobbyists?

Early in his presidential campaign, Obama stated that “they [lobbyists] won’t find a job in my White House”, but softened his stance later in the campaign. On January 21, 2009, Obama issued an executive order for all future appointees to his administration, which stated, no appointee who was a registered lobbyist within the two years before his appointment could participate on matters in which he lobbied for a period of two years after the date of appointment. Three formal waivers were initially issued in early 2009, out of 800 executive appointments: to William J. Lynn III, a lobbyist for Raytheon, to hold the position of Deputy Secretary of Defense; to Jocelyn Frye, former general counsel at the National Partnership for Women and Families, to serve as Director of Policy and Projects in the Office of the First Lady; and to Cecilia Muñoz, former senior vice president for the National Council of La Raza, to serve as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Executive Office of the President. As of March 21, 2009, at least thirty officials appointed by Obama had been lobbyists in the past five years. Ten additional waivers were announced in September 2009.

President Barack Obama: Starting his presidential years as an outspoken advocate of lobbying regulation, President Obama’s actions in relation to lobbying have led some to believe that he has not lived up to the high ethical standards that he set out for himself.

Not all recent former lobbyists require waivers; those without waivers write letters of recusal stating issues from which they must refrain because of their previous jobs. USA Today reported that 21 members of the Obama administration have at some time been registered as federal lobbyists, although most have not within the previous two years. Lobbyists in the administration include William Corr, an anti-tobacco lobbyist, as Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services and Tom Vilsack, who lobbied in 2007, for a national teachers union, as Secretary of Agriculture. Also, the Secretary of Labor nominee, Hilda Solis, formerly served as a board member of American Rights at Work, which lobbied Congress on two bills Solis co-sponsored, and Mark Patterson, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s chief of staff, is a former lobbyist for Goldman Sachs.

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington have criticized the administration, claiming that Obama is retreating from his own ethics rules barring lobbyists from working on the issues about which they lobbied during the previous two years by issuing waivers. According to Melanie Sloan, the group’s executive director, “It makes it appear that they are saying one thing and doing another.”

5 – Elements of Successful Interest Groups

5.1 – Size and Resources

5.1.1 – Introduction

Interest groups are comprised of individuals with shared knowledge, status, or goals, and in many cases these groups advocate for particular political or social issues. In the United States, interest groups are often associated with lobbying groups, who seek to influence government officials to act favorably towards them. Interest groups, however, are not always involved in lobbying. They may not be politically active, or else they may use indirect tactics such as media campaigns, research, and public opinion polls in order to advance their cause.

The Iron Triangle: In United States politics, the iron triangle comprises the policy-making relationship among the congressional committees, the bureaucracy, and interest groups.

Interest groups that are politically active with regards to one or more issues are called advocacy groups. In liberal democracies, advocacy groups tend to treat bureaucracy as their main channel of influence, because that is where the decision-making power lies. The aim of advocacy groups is to influence a member of the legislature to support their cause by voting a certain way. The practice of attempting to influence lawmakers is called lobbying, and the effectiveness of a group’s lobbying efforts is usually tied to its access to resources (almost always financial).

5.1.2 – Interest Groups and Resources

Interest groups may gain influence because of their access to money. Indeed, financial resources are often critical in influencing governmental policy. In some cases, money is used directly to influence politicians — for example, a lobbyist may treat a legislator to an expensive dinner. These instances are almost always considered corrupt, and are often outlawed as bribery. Money can also be used in more subtle ways to pressure lawmakers into voting in a particular way. For example, because they play a large role in the national economy, large corporations have an advantage in influencing lawmakers. If these large corporations were to suddenly become less successful, it might create economic trouble, which could turn public opinion against elected officials. Thus, the wealthier a corporation is, the more political clout it tends to have. Likewise, large corporations have greater access to politicians than other groups, because corporate leaders often have insider status in powerful groups. Moreover, an interest group might also make use of financial resources in order to donate to a political campaign. In this instance, the donation is not explicitly tied to a policy vote, and is therefore a legal contribution. That being said, the expectation is that interest groups will use their wealth to elect candidates that support their issues. In all of these ways, interest groups use money to gain success and influence on many levels.

5.1.3 – Issue Campaigns

Apart from using money to directly influence bureaucrats, interest groups may also use their wealth to launch issue campaigns. In this case, organizations try to gain popular support among American voters for a particular issue. Ultimately, the goal of this tactic is to pressure legislators into acting a certain way in response to a perceived public mandate. Since legislators are elected, there is a strong incentive for them to vote for issues that are popular with the current public opinion. Media campaigns can be very effective at marshaling public opinion, but they are very expensive, because campaigns need to buy television and radio air time, as well as print advertisements. Money is also required to hire and fund the professionals who will run these campaigns. Thus, interest groups with greater funds are far more likely to successfully influence policy than those groups with fewer financial resources.

5.1.4 – Size of Interest Groups

As organizations attempting to influence politics through public opinion, interest groups with larger memberships have an advantage over smaller ones. Since legislators are accountable to voters, the more public support there is for an issue, the more likely it is to receive support and governmental attention. Larger interest groups necessarily have influence because of how many voters participate in them. They are also effective because the core group membership is able to more effectively campaign on behalf of an issue than a group with a smaller membership. Additionally, larger interest groups are able to stage large demonstrations that make visible the widespread support for an issue.

5.2 – Leadership

Interest groups often rely on leaders to organize their fundraising and make their advocacy efforts successful.

The role of leadership varies based on the political orientation or goals of an interest group. Some interest groups, especially corporations, hire lobbyiststo lead their advocacy efforts. Interest groups with organized media campaigns may be led by political strategists. In contrast, more amorphous social movements that act as interest groups may coalesce around charismatic, but often unofficial, group leaders.

When interest groups attempt to influence policymakers through lobbying, they usually rely on professional lobbyists. Lobbyists are often well-connected professionals, such as lawyers, whose role is to argue for specific legislation. Successful lobbyists achieve insider status in legislative bodies, meaning they can talk directly to lawmakers. Once they gain access to legislators, the lobbyist’s job is to persuade them to act on behalf of their client. Recent estimates put the number of registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. at about 13,700, though there are likely thousands more unregistered lobbyists working to influence policymakers.

Interest groups that attempt to influence policy by changing public opinion may be led by political strategists, who are often consultants familiar with public relations, advertising, and the political process. Political strategists are responsible for determining a campaign plan. The campaign plan usually involves deciding on a central message the interest group hopes to use for persuading voters to support their position. Additionally, the strategist determines where advertisements will be placed, where grassroots organizing efforts will be focused, and how fundraising will be structured. In issue-based campaigns, successful political strategists create public awareness and support for an issue, which can then pressure legislators to act in favor of the interest group.

Interest groups may be broader than one formal organization, in which case advocacy may form a social movement. A social movement is group action aimed at social change. Social movements may have some formal hierarchy, but they are often disorganized, with funding and support coming from a range of decentralized sources. Because of these factors, social movements do not always have a clear leader the way corporate lobbying efforts and media campaigns do. Instead, social movements may either rely on a network of local leaders, or may be led informally by a charismatic or influential participant. For example, the Civil Rights Movement was a diffuse and widespread effort toward social change, involving many formal organizations and informal groups. Still, many consider Martin Luther King, Jr. to be the leader of the Civil Rights Movement because of the highly influential and public role he played in influencing policies and opinions. Interest groups with a de facto leader may be more successful at sustained political advocacy than those with no clear hierarchy, because a clearly defined leader allows for more efficient organization of fundraising efforts, demonstrations, and campaigns. That being said, social scientists often disagree when defining social movements and the most effective forms of advocacy, finding that leadership plays an ambiguous role in terms of the overall success of many interest groups.

5.3 – Cohesiveness

Advocacy groups that form along ideological, ethnic, or foreign policy objectives tend to have higher levels of internal cohesion.

5.3.1 – Introduction

In the social sciences a social group has been defined as two or more humans who interact with one another, share similar characteristics, and collectively have a sense of unity. Other theorists, however, are a wary of definitions which stress the importance of interdependence or objective similarity. Instead, for researchers in the social identity tradition, “a group is defined in terms of those who identify themselves as members of the group. ” Regardless, social groups come in a myriad of sizes and varieties.

A social group exhibits some degree of social cohesion and is more than a simple collection or aggregate of individuals, such as people waiting at a bus stop or people waiting in a line. Characteristics shared by members of a group may include interests, values, representations, ethnic or social background, and kinship ties. Kinship ties being a social bond based on common ancestry, marriage, or adoption. In a similar vein, some researchers consider the defining characteristic of a group as social interaction.

5.3.2 – Advocacy Groups

AIPAC Protest DC 2005: The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee is an example of an ethnic interest group. This is a photograph of a group of protesters outside the AIPAC conference at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center.

Advocacy groups use various forms of advocacy to influence public opinion and/or policy; they have played and continue to play an important part in the development of political and social systems. Groups vary considerably in size, influence, and motive; some have wide-ranging, long-term social purposes, others are focused and are a response to an immediate issue or concern. Motives for action may be based on a shared political, faith, moral, or commercial position. Groups use varied methods to try to achieve their aims including lobbying, media campaigns, publicity stunts, polls, research, and policy briefings. Some groups are supported by powerful business or political interests and exert considerable influence on the political process, others have few such resources.

An ethnic interest group, according to the political scientist Thomas Ambrosio, is an advocacy group established along cultural, ethnic, religious, or racial lines by an ethnic group for the purposes of directly or indirectly influencing the foreign policy of their resident country in support of the homeland and/or ethnic kin abroad with which they identify. According to Ambrosio, “like other societal interest groups, ethnic identity groups establish formal organizations devoted to promoting group cohesiveness and addressing group concerns. ” While many formal organizations, established by ethnic identity groups, are apolitical, others are created explicitly for political purposes. In general, groups who seek to influence government policy on domestic or foreign issues are referred to as “advocacy groups. ” Those interest groups, established by ethnic identity groups, are referred to as ethnic interest groups. The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee is an example of an ethnic interest group in the United States – its mission is to influence American foreign policy and maintain a robust alliance with Israel.

5.3.3 – Groupthink

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups of people, in which the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints. Antecedent factors, such as group cohesiveness, structural faults, and situational context, play into the likelihood of whether or not groupthink will impact the decision-making process.

Deindividuation is a concept in social psychology that is generally thought of as the loosening of self-awareness in groups, although this is a matter of contention. Sociologists also study the phenomenon of deindividuation, but the level of analysis is somewhat different. For the social psychologist, the level of analysis is the individual in the context of a social situation. As such, social psychologists emphasize the role of internal psychological processes. Other social sciences, such as sociology, are more concerned with broad social, economic, political, and historical factors that influence events in a given society.

5.4 – Members

5.4.1 – Introduction

NRA Headquarters: The headquarters of the NRA, an interest group, located in Fairfax Virginia, USA.

An interest group is a group of individuals who share common objectives, and whose aim is to influence policymakers. Institutional interest groups represent other organizations, with agendas that fit the needs of the organizations they serve. Examples include the American Cotton Manufacturers (which represents the generally congruous southern textile mills) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which represents the multitude of wants of American businesses).

Membership interest groups are organizations that represent individuals for social, business, labor, or charitable purposes in order to achieve civil or political goals. Examples include the NAACP (African-American interests), the Sierra Club (environmental interests), the NRA (Second Amendment interests), and Common Cause (interests in an increase in voter turnout and knowledge). Membership includes a group of people that join an interest group and unite under one cause. Members may or may not have an opinion on some of the issues the staff pursues. Similarly, staff are the leaders. With the membership united under one cause, the staff has the ability to pursue other issues that the membership may disagree on because members will remain in the group because they are united by the primary cause.

5.4.2 – Benefits and Incentives

A general theory is that individuals must be enticed with some type of benefit to join an interest group. Known as the free rider problem, it refers to the difficulty of obtaining members when the benefits are reaped without membership. For instance, an interest group dedicated to improving farming standards will fight for the general goal of improving farming for all farmers, even those who are not members of the particular interest group. Thus, there is no real incentive to join an interest group and pay dues if the farmer will still receive that benefit even if they do not become a member. Interest groups must receive dues and contributions from members in order to accomplish their agendas. While every individual in the world would benefit from a cleaner environment, an environmental protection interest group does not, in turn, receive financial help from every individual in the world.

Selective material benefits are sometimes given in order to address the free rider problem. Interest groups give material benefits like travel discounts, free meals at certain restaurants, or free subscriptions to magazines, newspapers, or journals. Many trade and professional interest groups give these benefits to members.

A selective solidary benefit is another type of benefit offered to members of an interest group. These incentives involve benefits like socializing, congeniality, the sense of group membership and identification, the status resulting from membership, fun and conviviality, the maintenance of social distinctions, and so on. A solidary incentive is one in which the rewards for participation are social and created out of the act of association.

An expressive incentive can be another basic benefit to members of an interest group. People who join an interest group because of expressive benefits join to express an ideological or moral value they believe in. Such values include free speech, civil rights, economic justice, or political equality. To obtain these types of benefits, members simply pay dues or donate time or money to get a feeling of satisfaction from expressing a political value. Even if the interest group does not achieve its goals, members merely want to be able to say they helped out in the process of trying to obtain the goals, which is the expressive incentive. Interest groups that rely on expressive benefits include environmental groups and groups who claim to lobby for the public interest.

5.4.3 – Collective Action

Mancur Lloyd Olson, a leading American economist, sought to understand the logical basis of interest group membership and participation. The reigning political theories of his day granted groups an almost primordial status. Some appealed to a natural human instinct for herding, others ascribed the formation of groups to kinship rooted in the process of modernization. Olson offered a radically different account of the logical basis of organized collective action. In his first book, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (1965), he theorized that “only a separate and ‘selective’ incentive will stimulate a rational individual in a latent group to act in a group-oriented way.” Olsen’s work laid the foundation for understanding how members of a large group will not act in the group’s common interest unless motivated by personal gains.

6 – Political Parties

6.1 – Introduction

6.1.1 – Overview

A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties often espouse an expressed ideology or vision bolstered by a written platform with specific goals, forming a coalition among disparate interests.

6.1.2 – Parliamentary Party Structure

When the party is represented by members in the lower house of parliament, the party leader simultaneously serves as the leader of the parliamentary group of that full party representation. Depending on a minimum number of seats held, Westminster-based parties allow for leaders to form frontbench teams of senior fellow members of the parliamentary group who serve as critics of aspects of government policy. When a party becomes the largest party not to be represented in a Westminster-style parliament, the party’s parliamentary group forms the Official Opposition. The Official Opposition frontbench team members often form the Official Opposition Shadow cabinet. When a party achieves enough seats in an election to form a majority, the party’s frontbench becomes the Cabinet of government ministers.

6.1.3 – Regulation of Party Formation

The freedom to form a political party is considered a measurement of a state ‘s adherence to liberal democracy as a political value. Regulation of political parties may manifest as a crackdown on or repression of all opposition parties or certain parties who promote ideals that run counter to the general ideology of the state’s incumbents or possess membership by-laws which are legally unenforceable.

6.1.4 – Voting Systems

The type of electoral system is a major factor in determining the type of political party system. In countries with a simple plurality voting system, there tends to be few parties elected (often only two in any given jurisdiction). In countries that have a proportional representation voting system, as exists throughout Europe, or to a greater extent ranked voting systems, such as in Australia or Ireland, three or more parties are often elected to parliament in significant proportions, and thus may have more access to public office.

6.1.5 – Partisan and Nonpartisan Style Political Parties

Partisan style political parties varies according to each jurisdiction, depending on how many parties there are, and how much influence each individual party has.

In a nonpartisan system, no official political parties exist, sometimes reflecting legal restrictions on political parties. In nonpartisan elections, each candidate is eligible for office on his or her own merits. Unless there are legal prohibitions against political parties, factions within nonpartisan systems often evolve into political parties.

6.1.6 – A Single Dominant Party

In single-party systems, one political party is legally allowed to hold effective power. Although minor parties may sometimes be allowed, they are legally required to accept the leadership of the dominant party. This party may not always be identical to the government, although sometimes positions within the party may in fact be more important than positions within the government. North Korea and China are examples. Other examples can be found in Fascist states, such as Nazi Germany between 1934 and 1945. The single-party system is thus usually equated with dictatorships and tyranny.

In dominant-party systems, opposition parties are allowed, and there may be even a deeply established democratic tradition, but other parties are widely considered to have no real chance of gaining power. Political, social, and economic circumstances, and public opinion can be reasons for others parties’ failure. Typically in countries with less of an established democratic tradition, it is possible the dominant party will remain in power by using patronage and sometimes through voting fraud.

6.1.7 – Two-Party Systems

Two-party systems are states in which there are two political parties dominant to such an extent that electoral success under the banner of any other party is almost impossible. One right wing coalition party and one left wing coalition party is the most common ideological breakdown in such a system, but in two-party states political parties are traditionally parties that are ideologically broad and inclusive.

The British Parliament and U.S. Congress are examples of two-party systems.

6.1.8 – Multiple Political Parties

Joint Session of a Two-Party Congress: The United States Congress is an example of a two-party system of governance. In this picture, Obama’s Health Care Speech is being given to both the House and the Senate.

Multi-party systems are systems in which more than two parties are represented and elected to public office.

Australia, Canada, People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Ireland, United Kingdom, and Norway are examples of countries with two strong parties and additional smaller parties that have also obtained representation. The smaller or “third” parties may hold the balance of power in a parliamentary system, and thus may be invited to form a part of a coalition government together with one of the larger parties; or may instead act independently from the dominant parties.

More commonly, in cases where there are three or more parties, no one party is likely to gain power alone, and parties work with each other to form coalition governments. Political change is often easier with a coalition government than in one-party or two-party dominant systems.

6.2 – Interest Groups

6.2.1 – Introduction

The term interest group refers to nearly any voluntary association that seeks to publicly promote and create advantages for its cause. These diverse organizations include corporations, charitable organizations, civil rights groups, neighborhood associations, professional associations, and trade associations.

6.2.2 – Special Interest Group

A Special Interest Group (SIG) is a community with an interest in advancing a specific area of knowledge, learning, or technology where members cooperate to affect or to produce solutions within their particular field. SIG members may communicate, meet, and organize conferences. At times they may also advocate or lobby on a particular issue or on a range of issues. However, they are generally distinct from advocacy groups and pressure groups which are normally set up for the specific political aim. The distinction is not firm though and some organizations evolve and change their focus over time.

6.2.3 – Lobbying

Lobbying (also lobby) is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in the government. Lobbying is done by many different types of people and organized groups, including individuals in the private sector, corporations, fellow legislators or government officials, or advocacy groups (interest groups). Professional lobbyists are people whose business is trying to influence legislation on behalf of a group or individual who hires them. Individuals and nonprofit organizations can also lobby as an act of volunteering or as a small part of their normal job. Governments often define and regulate organized group lobbying that has become influential.

The Lobby of the House of Commons: The Lobby of the House of Commons, painted in 1886 by Liborio Prosperi.

The ethics and morality of lobbying are dual-edged. Lobbying is often spoken of with contempt when the implication is that people with inordinate socioeconomic power are corrupting the law in order to serve their own interest. However, another side of lobbying is making sure that others’ interests are duly defended against corruption. Lobbying can also make sure that minority interests are fairly defended against mere tyranny of the majority. Governments often define and regulate organized group lobbying.

Lobby groups may concentrate their efforts on the legislatures, where laws are created, but may also use the judicial branch to advance their causes. For example, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed suits in state and federal courts in the 1950’s to challenge segregation laws. Their efforts resulted in the Supreme Court declaring such laws to be unconstitutional.

6.2.4 – Advocacy Group

Advocacy groups use various forms of advocacy in order to influence public opinion and/or policy. They have played and continue to play an important part in the development of political and social systems.

Some advocacy groups have developed into important social, political institutions or social movements. Some powerful lobby groups have been accused of manipulating the democratic system for narrow commercial gain. In some instances, they have been found guilty of corruption, fraud, bribery, and other serious crimes. As a result, lobbying has become increasingly regulated. Some groups, generally ones with less financial resources, may use direct action and civil disobedience. At times, they are accused of being a threat to the social order or ‘domestic extremists. ‘

An advocacy group is a group or an organization that tries to influence the government, but does not hold power in the government. Smaller groups representing broad interests of a group may be formed with the purpose of benefiting the group over an extended period of time and in many ways. Examples are consumer organizations, professional associations, trade associations, and trade unions.

Advocacy groups exist in a wide variety of genres based upon their most pronounced activities.

Anti-defamation organizations issue responses or criticisms to real or supposed slights of any sort by an individual or group against a specific segment of the population which the organization exists to represent.

Watchdog groups provide oversight and rating of actions or media by various outlets, both government and corporate.

Lobby groups work to enact a change to the law or the maintenance of a particular law. Some lobby groups have considerable financial resources at their disposal. Lobbying is regulated to stop the worst abuses which can develop into corruption.

Legal defense funds provide funding for the legal defense for, or legal action against, individuals or groups related to their specific interests or target demographic.

6.2.5 – Types

Organizations can be categorized along the lines of the three elements of commerce: business owners, workers, and consumers.

Employers’ organizations represent the interests of a group of businesses in the same industry.

Occupational or labor organizations promote the professional and economic interests of workers in a particular occupation, industry, or trade, through interaction with the government and by preparing advertising and other promotional campaigns to the public. Such groups will also provide member services such as career support, training, and organized social activities.

Consumer organizations exist to protect people from corporate abuse, promote fair business practices, and enforce consumer rights.

6.3 – Party Identification

6.3.1 – Introduction

Party identification refers to the political party with which an individual identifies. Party identification is typically determined by the political party that an individual most commonly supports, by voting or other means. shows the shift of party identification between the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.

Voting Shifts by County Between the 2004 and 2008 Presidential Election: Voter identification is shown no where more clearly perhaps than during presidential elections. This map shows shifts in broad county party identification between the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.

In the United States, political parties consist of three parts: the party as government (members of the party who hold public office), the party as organization (committees, leaders and activists who work to promote the party and the candidates), and the party as electorate (citizens who support the party through party identification).

Citizens in the general population who identify with a particular party make up the Party in the Electorate. Party identifiers (partisans) could be described by their support in the following ways:

  • They register as a member of the particular party when registered to vote.
  • They show a strong tendency to vote for candidates in their preferred party in most elections.
  • When surveyed, they identify themselves as members of that particular party.
  • They are inclined to support policies endorsed by the particular party.
  • They volunteer for campaigns to support party candidates more than the general population.
  • They have a higher voter turnout in primary elections than the general population.

Some researchers view party identification as a form of social identity, in the same way that a person identifies with a religious or ethnic group. This identity develops early in a person’s life mainly through family and social influences. This description would make party identification a stable perspective, which develops as a consequence of personal, family, social and environmental factors. Other researchers consider party identification to be more flexible and more of a conscious choice. They see it as a position and a choice based on the continued assessment of the political, economic and social environment. Party identification can increase or even shift by motivating events or conditions in the country.

6.3.2 – Characterization

6.3.2.1 – Childhood Influence

Childhood Influence is one of main driving factors behind formation of party identification. During childhood, the main political influence comes from parents, other close family members and close surroundings such as the immediate community. Children remember events that happened during their childhood and associate them with the political party, whether or not they were connected with those events. For example, a child growing up in the 1970s would associate the Republican party with the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration, a child growing up in the 1990s would associate the Democratic party with the sex scandal of the Clinton administration, or a child growing up in early 2000 would associate the Republican party with the Iraq War and the War on Terror. Although these parties might or might not embrace the issues that happened during that administration, a child could forever associate the party with those memorable events.

6.3.2.2 – Adulthood

During adulthood, people can begin to adjust their party loyalties according to their personal experiences. The longer an individual holds a party ID, the stronger that attachment to the party tends to become. Because of this, older adults are more likely to hold strong party attachments, and less likely to change them than young adults.

6.3.2.3 – Change

Party ID changes can occur in times of party coalition change, or realignment. During these times, party coalitions themselves are being transformed, and as a result, people are more likely to desert the party of their parents. It is during these times of partisan turmoil when younger adults are more likely to change party ID.

6.3.2.4 – Measuring Party Identification

It is important to measure party identification in order to determine its strengths and weaknesses. Political scientists have developed many ways to measure party identification in order to examine and evaluate it.

One method of measuring party identification uses the Likert Scale. The Likert Scale is a 7 point scale to measure party identification:

Strong Democrat-Weak Democrat-Lean Democrat-Independent-Lean Republican-Weak Republican-Strong Republican

This scale does have some problematic aspects. According to the scale, a weak party supporter should normally vote with the party, but many times this is not the case. A “leaning” party supporter shows more loyalty to the party than that of a weak party supporter. Weak party supporters are more likely to stray from their party than someone who does not really declare a party identification and only tends to lean to one or the other based on the issues at hand.

6.3.2.5 – Voting

Those people who identify with a party tend to vote for their party’s candidate for various offices in high percentages. Those who consider themselves to be strong partisans, tend to be the most faithful in voting for their party’s nominee for office. In the case of voting for president, since the 1970s, party identification on voting behavior has been increasing significantly. By the late 1990s, party identification on voting behavior was at the highest level of any election since the 1950s. When voting in congressional elections, the trend is similar. Strong party identifiers voted overwhelmingly for their party’s nominee in the general election.

The same level of voting behavior can also be applied to state and local levels. While straight ticket voting has declined among the general voting population, it is still prevalent in those who are strong Republicans and strong Democrats.

7 – The History of Political Parties

7.1 – The First Political Parties: Federalists and Anti-Federalists

The winning supporters of ratification of the Constitution were called Federalists, the opponents were called Anti-Federalists.

7.1.1 – Introduction

The Federalist Era was a period in American history from roughly 1789-1801 when the Federalist Party was dominant in American politics. This period saw the adoption of the United States Constitution and the expansion of the federal government. In addition, the era saw the growth of a strong nationalistic government under the control of the Federalist Party. Among the most important events of this period were the foreign entanglements between France and Great Britain, the assertion of a strong centralized federal government, and the creation of political parties. The First Party System of the United States featured the Federalist Party and the Democratic- Republican Party (also known as the Anti-Federalist Party).

The United States Constitution was written in 1787 and unanimously ratified by the states in 1788, taking effect in 1789. The winning supporters of ratification of the Constitution were called Federalists and the opponents were called Anti-Federalists. The immediate problem faced by the Federalists was not simply one of acceptance of the Constitution but the more fundamental concern of legitimacy for the government of the new republic. With this challenge in mind, the new national government needed to act with the idea that every act was being carried out for the first time and would therefore have great significance and be viewed along the lines of the symbolic as well as practical implications. The first elections to the new United States Congress returned heavy Federalist majorities. The first Anti-Federalist movement opposed the draft Constitution in 1788, primarily because they lacked a Bill of Rights. The Anti-Federalists, or Democrat-Republicans, objected to the new powerful central government and the loss of prestige for the states, and saw the Constitution as a potential threat to personal liberties. During the ratification process the Anti-Federalists presented a significant opposition in all but three states. A major stumbling block for the Anti-Federalists, however, was that the supporters of the Constitution were more deeply committed and outmaneuvered the less energetic opposition.

7.1.2 – Federalists v. Anti-Federalists

Alexander Hamilton: Alexander Hamilton, secretary of treasury under President George Washington, became a leading Federalist in the Federalist vs. Anti-Federalists debate.

The dynamic force in the Presidency of George Washington was the secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton had the vision of a strong national government and a strong national economy. He devised a complex multi-faceted program to achieve that goal and simultaneously solved the debt problem for most of the states. Hamilton created a financial system for national and international stability that included paying off the national debt and laying the infrastructure for further economic development. Hamilton’s programs included:

  • the assumption of the state’s Revolutionary War debts;
  • the payoffs of the debts of the old Continental Congress;
  • the payoffs of loans from foreign treasuries and investors;
  • the creation of a system of taxes and tariffs to pay for the debt; and
  • a First Bank of the United States to handle the finances.

Congress approved Hamilton’s programs, which would later be labeled Federalist, over the opposition of the old Anti-Federalists element, which increasingly coalesced under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. In order to build a national network in support of his programs, Hamilton created a coalition of supporters in every city and state, often consisting of prominent businessmen and financiers. Hamilton’s network of supporters grew into the “Federalist Party” that included most, but not all, of those Federalists who supported the Constitution in 1788. A major emphasis of Hamilton’s policies and indeed the general outlook for the Federalist Party was that the federal government was to preside over the national economy.

7.1.3 – Rise of Political Parties

Federalists during the ratification period had been unified around the Constitution and support for its form of government. Following the acceptance of the Constitution, the initial Federalist movement faded briefly only to be taken up by a second movement centered upon the support for Alexander Hamilton’s policies of a strong nationalist government, loose construction of the Constitution, and mercantile economic policies. The support around these policies eventually established the first official political party in the United States as the Federalist Party. The Party reached its political apex with the election of the strongly Federalist President John Adams. However the defeat of Adams in the election of 1800 and the death of Hamilton led to the decline of the Federalist Party from which it did not recover. While there were still Federalists after 1800, the party never again enjoyed the power and influence it had held earlier. One of the Federalists Era’s greatest accomplishments was that republican government survived and took root in the United States.

Republicans, or the Democratic-Republican Party, was founded in 1792 by Jefferson and James Madison. The party was created in order to oppose the policies of Hamilton and the Federalist Party. In contrast to the Federalists, the Republican supported a strict construction interpretation of the Constitution, and denounced many of Hamilton’s proposals (especially the national bank) as unconstitutional. The party promoted states’ rights and the primacy of the yeoman farmer over bankers, industrialists, merchants, and other monied interests. The party supported states’ rights as a measure against the tyrannical nature of a large centralized government that they feared the Federal government could have easily become. It would be Jefferson and the Republican Party that would replace the Federalist Party domination of politics following the election of 1800.

7.2 – Political Parties from 1800-1824

The First Party System is a model of American politics used by political scientists and historians to periodize the political party system existing in the United States between roughly 1792 and 1824. Rising out of the Federalist v. Anti-Federalist debates, it featured two national parties competing for control of the presidency, Congress, and the states: the Federalist Party, created largely by Alexander Hamilton, and the rival Democratic-Republican Party formed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The Federalists were dominant until 1800, and the Republicans were dominant after 1800.

The First Party System: Federalist poster about 1800. Washington (in heaven) tells partisans to keep the pillars of Federalism, Republicanism and Democracy

In an analysis of the contemporary party system, Jefferson wrote on Feb. 12, 1798: “Two political Sects have arisen within the US, the one believing that the executive is the branch of our government which the most needs support; the other, that like the analogous branch in the English Government, it is already too strong for the republican parts of the Constitution; and therefore in equivocal cases they incline to the legislative powers: the former of these are called federalists, sometimes aristocrats or monocrats, and sometimes tories, after the corresponding sect in the English Government of exactly the same definition: the latter are stiled republicans, whigs, jacobins, anarchists, disorganizers, etc. these terms are in familiar use with most persons. ”

Both parties originated in national politics, but later expanded their efforts to gain supporters and voters in every state. The Federalists appealed to the business community, the Republicans to the planters and farmers. By 1796 politics in every state was nearly monopolized by the two parties, with party newspapers and caucuses becoming especially effective tools to mobilize voters.

The Federalists promoted the financial system of Treasury Secretary Hamilton, which emphasized federal assumption of state debts, a tariff to pay off those debts, a national bank to facilitate financing, and encouragement of banking and manufacturing. The Republicans, based in the plantation South, opposed a strong executive power, were hostile to a standing army and navy, demanded a limited reading of the Constitutional powers of the federal government, and strongly opposed the Hamilton financial program. Perhaps even more important was foreign policy, where the Federalists favored Britain because of its political stability and its close ties to American trade, while the Republicans admired the French and the French Revolution. Jefferson was especially fearful that British aristocratic influences would undermine Republicanism. Britain and France were at war from 1793 through 1815, with one brief interruption. American policy was neutrality, with the Federalists hostile to France, and the Republicans hostile to Britain. The Jay Treaty of 1794 marked the decisive mobilization of the two parties and their supporters in every state. President George Washington, while officially nonpartisan, generally supported the Federalists, and that party made Washington their iconic hero. The First Party System ended during the Era of Good Feelings (1816–1824), as the Federalists shrank to a few isolated strongholds and the Republicans lost unity. In 1824-28, as the Second Party System emerged, the Republican Party split into the Jacksonian faction, which became the modern Democratic Party in the 1830s, and the Henry Clay faction, which was absorbed by Clay’s Whig Party.

7.3 – Jacksonian Democrats: 1824-1860

7.3.1 – Introduction

Jacksonian democracy is the political movement toward greater democracy for the common man typified by American politician Andrew Jackson and his supporters. Jackson’s policies followed the era of Jeffersonian democracy which dominated the previous political era. The Democratic-Republican Party of the Jeffersonians became factionalized in the 1820s. Jackson’s supporters began to form the modern Democratic Party; they fought the rival Adams and Anti-Jacksonian factions, which soon emerged as the Whigs.

More broadly, the term refers to the period of the Second Party System (mid-1824–1860) when the democratic attitude was the spirit of that era. It can be contrasted with the characteristics of Jeffersonian democracy. Jackson’s equal political policy became known as “Jacksonian Democracy,” subsequent to ending what he termed a ” monopoly ” of government by elites. Jeffersonians opposed inherited elites but favored educated men while the Jacksonians gave little weight to education. The Whigs were the inheritors of Jeffersonian Democracy in terms of promoting schools and colleges. During the Jacksonian era, the suffrage was extended to (nearly) all white male adult citizens.

In contrast to the Jeffersonian era, Jacksonian democracy promoted the strength of the presidency and executive branch at the expense of Congress, while also seeking to broaden the public’s participation in government. They demanded elected (not appointed) judges and rewrote many state constitutions to reflect the new values. In national terms the Jacksonians favored geographical expansion, justifying it in terms of Manifest Destiny. There was usually a consensus among both Jacksonians and Whigs that battles over slavery should be avoided. The Jacksonian Era lasted roughly from Jackson’s 1828 election until the slavery issue became dominant after 1850 and the American Civil War dramatically reshaped American politics as the Third Party System emerged.

Jacksonian democracy was built on the following general principles:

7.3.1.1 – Expanded Suffrage

The Jacksonians believed that voting rights should be extended to all white men. By 1820, universal white male suffrage was the norm, and by 1850 nearly all requirements to own property or pay taxes had been dropped.

7.3.1.2 – Manifest Destiny

This was the belief that white Americans had a destiny to settle the American West and to expand control from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and that the West should be settled by yeoman farmers. However, the Free Soil Jacksonians, notably Martin Van Buren, argued for limitations on slavery in the new areas to enable the poor white man to flourish; they split with the main party briefly in 1848. The Whigs generally opposed Manifest Destiny and expansion, saying the nation should build up its cities.

7.3.1.3 – Patronage

Also known as the spoils system, patronage was the policy of placing political supporters into appointed offices. Many Jacksonians held the view that rotating political appointees in and out of office was not only the right but also the duty of winners in political contests. Patronage was theorized to be good because it would encourage political participation by the common man and because it would make a politician more accountable for poor government service by his appointees. Jacksonians also held that long tenure in the civil service was corrupting, so civil servants should be rotated out of office at regular intervals. However, it often led to the hiring of incompetent and sometimes corrupt officials due to the emphasis on party loyalty above any other qualifications.

7.3.1.4 – Strict Constructionism

Like the Jeffersonians who strongly believed in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, Jacksonians initially favored a federal government of limited powers. Jackson said that he would guard against “all encroachments upon the legitimate sphere of State sovereignty”. This is not to say that Jackson was a states’ rights extremist; indeed, the Nullification Crisis would find Jackson fighting against what he perceived as state encroachments on the proper sphere of federal influence. This position was one basis for the Jacksonians’ opposition to the Second Bank of the United States. As the Jacksonians consolidated power, they more often advocated expanding federal power and presidential power in particular.

7.3.1.5 – Laissez-faire Economics

Complementing a strict construction of the Constitution, the Jacksonians generally favored a hands-off approach to the economy, as opposed to the Whig program sponsoring modernization, railroads, banking, and economic growth. The leader was William Leggett of the Locofocos in New York City.

7.3.1.6 – Banking

Jackson and Banking: Democratic cartoon shows Jackson slaying the monster Bank

In particular, the Jacksonians opposed government-granted monopolies to banks, especially the national bank, a central bank known as the Second Bank of the United States. Despite this, Jackson did not actively seek to destroy or fight the Bank, only vetoing the Bank’s recharter and subsequently pulling out federal reserves. The Whigs, who strongly supported the Bank, were led by Daniel Webster and Nicholas Biddle, the bank chairman. Jackson himself was opposed to all banks, because he believed they were devices to cheat common people; he and many followers believed that only gold and silver could be money

7.4 – The Gilded Age: 1860-1932

7.4.1 – Introduction

Gilded Age: The Breakers, the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, located in Newport, Rhode Island, United States. It was built in 1893, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994.

In United States history, the Gilded Age was the period following the Civil War, running from the late 1860s to about 1896 when the next era began, the Progressive Era. The term was coined by writers Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, which satirized what they believed to be an era of serious social problems obscured by a thin veneer of prosperity.

The Gilded Age was a time of enormous growth that attracted millions of European immigrants. Railroads were the major industry, but the factory system, mining, and labor unions also gained in importance. Despite the growth, there was serious cause for concern, which manifested in two major nationwide depressions, known as the Panic of 1873 and the Panic of 1893. Furthermore, most of the growth and prosperity came in the North and West – states that had been part of the Union. States in the South, part of the defeated Confederate States of America, remained economically devastated; their economies became increasingly tied to cotton and tobacco production, which suffered low prices. African Americans in the south experienced the worst setbacks, as they were stripped of political power and voting rights.

During the 1870s and 1880s, the U.S. economy rose at the fastest rate in its history, with real wages, wealth, gross domestic product (GDP), and capital formation all increasing rapidly. Between 1865 and 1898, the output of wheat increased by 256%, corn by 222%, coal by 800% and miles of railway track by 567%. Thick national networks for transportation and communication were created. The corporation became the dominant form of business organization, and a managerial revolution transformed business operations. By the beginning of the 20th century, per capita income and industrial production in the United States led the world, with per capita incomes double that of Germany or France, and 50% higher than Britain.

7.4.2 – Politics in the Gilded Age

Gilded Age politics, called the Third Party System, were characterized by rampant corruption and intense competition between the two parties (with minor parties coming and going), especially on issues of Prohibitionist, labor unions and farmers. The Democrats and Republicans fought over control of offices as well as major economic issues. The dominant political issues included rights for African Americans, tariff policies and monetary policies. Reformers worked for civil service reform, prohibition and women’s suffrage, while philanthropists built colleges and hospitals, and the many religious denominations exerted a major sway in both politics and everyday life.

Voter turnout was very high and often exceeded 80% or even 90% in some states as the parties were adamant about rallying their loyal supporters. Competition was intense and elections were very close. In the South, lingering resentment over the Civil War meant that most states would vote Democrat. After the end of Reconstruction in 1877, competition in the South took place mainly inside the Democratic Party. Nationwide, voter turnout fell sharply after 1900.

7.4.3 – The Third Party System (1854-1890s)

The Third Party System lasted from about 1854 to the mid-1890s, and featured profound developments in issues of nationalism, modernization, and race. It was dominated by the new Republican Party (also known as the Grand Old Party or GOP), which claimed success in saving the Union, abolishing slavery and enfranchising the freedmen, while adopting many Whiggish modernization programs such as national banks, railroads, high tariffs, homesteads, social spending (such as on greater Civil War veteran pension funding), and aid to land grant colleges. While most elections from 1874 through 1892 were extremely close, the opposition Democrats won only the 1884 and 1892 presidential elections. The northern and western states were largely Republican, save for closely balanced New York, Indiana, New Jersey, and Connecticut. After 1874, the Democrats took control of the “Solid South. ”

7.4.4 – The Fourth Party System (1896-1932)

The Fourth Party System lasted from about 1896 to 1932, and was dominated by the Republican Party, excepting the 1912 split in which Democrats held the White House for eight years. American history texts usually call it the Progressive Era, and it included World War I and the start of the Great Depression. The period featured a transformation from the issues of the Third Party System, instead focusing on domestic issues such as regulation of railroads and large corporations (“trusts”), the money issue (gold versus silver), the protective tariff, the role of labor unions, child labor, the need for a new banking system, corruption in party politics, primary elections, direct election of senators, racial segregation, efficiency in government, women’s suffrage, and control of immigration. Foreign policy centered on the 1898 Spanish-American War, Imperialism, the Mexican Revolution, World War I, and the creation of the League of Nations.

7.5 – The Modern Era of Political Parties

Modern politics in the United States is a two-party system dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. One of these two parties has won every United States presidential election since 1852 and has controlled the United States Congress since at least 1856.

Modern Two-Party System: The 2008 elections, while won by a Democrat, reflect the relatively even divide in the United States between the Republican and Democratic Parties.

The Democratic Party is one of two major political parties in the United States, and is the oldest political party in the world. Since the division of the Republican Party in the election of 1912, it has positioned itself as progressive and supporting labor in economic as well as social matters. The economic philosophy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which has strongly influenced American liberalism, has shaped much of the party’s agenda since 1932, and Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition controlled the White House until 1968.

In 2004, it was the larger major political party, with 72 million voters (42.6% of 169 million registered) claiming affiliation. The current President of the United States, Barack Obama, is the 15th Democrat to hold the office, and since the 2006 midterm elections, the Democratic Party has held a majority in the United States Senate.

A 2011 USA Today review of state voter rolls indicates that registered Democrats declined in 25 of the 28 states that register voters by party. Democrats were still the largest political party with more than 42 million voters (compared with 30 million Republicans and 24 million independents ). However, in 2011, the number of Democrats shrank 800,000, and from 2008 they were down by 1.7 million, or 3.9%.

The other major contemporary political party in the United States is the Republican Party. It is often referred to as the GOP, which stands for “Grand Old Party,” or “Gallant Old Party”. Founded in 1854 by Northern anti-slavery expansion activists and modernizers, the Republican Party rose to prominence with the election of Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican to campaign on the Northern principles of anti-slavery. The party presided over the American Civil War and Reconstruction but was harried by internal factions and scandals toward the end of the 19th century. Today, the Republican Party supports an American conservative platform, with foundations in economic liberalism, fiscal conservatism, and social conservatism.

Former President George W. Bush was the 19th Republican to hold that office. The party’s nominee for President of the United States in the 2012 presidential election is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Since the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans have held a majority in the United States House of Representatives.

USA Today’s review of state voter rolls indicates that registered Republicans declined in 21 of the 28 states that register voters by party, and that Republican registrations were down 350,000 in 2011. The number of independents rose in 18 states, increasing by 325,000 in 2011, and was up more than 400,000 from 2008, or 1.7%.

8 – Party Functions

8.1 – Hosting Conventions

Political parties in the United States that will be fielding nominees in an upcoming U.S. presidential election are responsible for hosting presidential nominating conventions. The formal purpose of the conventions is to select the party’s candidates for president and vice president. The conventions develop a statement of party principles and goals known as a party platform. Another formal purpose of presidential nominating conventions is to adopt the rules for a given party’s activities, such as the presidential nominating process for the following election cycle.

Democratic National Convention: Presidential nominating conventions, like the Democratic National Convention, host influential speakers to increase party unity.

Nominating conventions also carry significance beyond their formal purposes. Conventions are an opportunity to rally political supporters and reward the party faithful by allowing them to participate asdelegates. Due to the national media presence surrounding presidential nominating conventions, they are also excellent tools to showcase a given party’s leaders and policies to prospective voters.

The two major political parties in the U.S. host the quadrennial Democratic National Convention and Republican National Convention to determine their respective presidential and vice presidential candidates. The Democratic National Committee administers the Democratic National Convention while the Republican National Committee administers the Republican National Convention. In recent years, candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties have been known in advance of these conventions. Subsequently, the more modern focus of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions has been to unify each respective party by having delegates vote on issues that the nominee can incorporate into their presidential campaign. The conventions also generate positive publicity towards each respective party.

Some minor political parties in the U.S. also utilize conventions to select their presidential candidates. Examples of such minor parties include the Green Party, Socialist Party USA, Libertarian Party, Constitution Party, and Reform Party USA.

8.2 – Selecting Candidates

Election candidates have often been determined before conventions, but are still formally declared as their party’s official candidates at the conventions.

8.2.1 – Introduction

2004 Republican National Convention Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were declared the official presidential and vice presidential candidates at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

The Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee create the rules governing the caucuses and primaries in which the field of presidential nominees is narrowed. These nominees then proceed to the presidential nominating conventions where a candidate will officially be determined.

The presidential candidates of the two major political parties in the United States are formally confirmed during the Democratic National Convention and Republican National Convention. Each party determines its own rules for the format of the convention and how participation is to be apportioned. Generally, each U.S. state and territory is allotted a select number of voting representatives, known individually as delegates and collectively as the delegation. The size of each delegation depends upon the unique formula used by a given political party. Such formulas usually consider the population of a given state, the state’s previous presidential voting patterns, and the number of Congressional representatives or government officials in a state who are members of the party.

8.2.2 – Voting Using the Rolling Roll Call

The voting method used during a convention is known as a rolling roll call of the states. The spokespersons of the states are called upon in alphabetical order by state name to announce their delegation count or to pass. After all states have either declared or passed, those states that passed must announce their delegate count. The decision to pass is usually made beforehand to give either the delegation of the presidential or vice presidential candidates’ home state the honor of casting the majority-making vote.

In recent years, presidential nominees have been known well in advance of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions due to changes in election laws, earlier primary elections and caucuses, and the manner in which political campaigns are run. However, the presidential nominating conventions still serve as the official method of selecting presidential candidates.

8.3 – Organizing Campaigns and Elections

Polling Data: The DNC and RNC collect polling data to produce maps showing where candidates have leads in certain areas. This information is helpful in developing campaign strategies.

In addition to hosting conventions and selecting candidates to run in presidential elections, political parties play key roles in organizing campaigns and elections. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Republican National Committee (RNC), in particular, are the central organizations devoted to campaign and political activity in support of the Democratic and Republican Party candidates. The DNC and RNC are permanent offices maintained by the Democratic and Republican parties to govern the daily operations of each party, as well as the special election and campaign operations conducted every four years. The DNC and RNC establish connections between followers of the Democratic and Republican parties with the respective leadership of each party. Such connections play a vital role in allowing presidential candidates to maintain a base of supporters they can depend upon during elections.

The Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee connect voters with party leadership in a variety of ways. At the start of the preliminary election season, the DNC and RNC are responsible for establishing the rules for the caucuses and primary elections. These caucuses and primaries are usually not run by the DNC and RNC but instead by the state. Aside from the process of nominating a presidential candidate, the DNC and RNC’s roles in selecting candidates to run on the Democratic and Republican Party ticket is minimal.

Later, the DNC and RNC supervise the presidential nominating conventions that officially declare the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Once a presidential candidate is chosen from each respective party, the Democratic and Republican National Committees provide crucial candidate support and party-building activities. Candidate support activities range from collecting polling data to running ad campaigns. Meanwhile, party-building activities often include voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives. The DNC and RNC also engage in coordinating fundraising and election strategies.

8.4 – Informing the Public

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Republican National Committee (RNC) provide an important link between the Democratic and Republican leaders and the general public. The DNC and RNC vie for the attention of the public in hopes of attracting voters. using multimedia strategies that encompass both traditional as well as more modern approaches. Traditional mass media approaches include issuing press releases and coordinating staged events; more modern approaches include reaching out to prospective constituents through Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and YouTube channels.

Both Democratic and Republican parties have developed sophisticated websites that provide extensive information about voting logistics, candidates and officeholders, and issue positions. These party websites also provide a means for direct participation in the DNC or RNC by providing information on volunteer activities and other opportunities to contribute to the Democratic and Republican Parties.

Political parties also play an active role in managing the media. In addition to hosting websites and populating social media, parties engage in spin with journalists and produce and air radio and television advertisements. It is important for parties to interact with the media in order to attract positive attention to their political candidates and remain viable in the public eye. Parties that have a strong media presence are the most effective in attracting volunteers and financial contributors.

Spin: Press conferences are one way in which politicians can engage journalists in spin, or interpreting an issue or event in the favor of their political party.

The role of parties in informing the public can most clearly be seen in the relationship between the DNC and the Obama administration. After his inauguration, Obama transferred his Obama for America organization to the DNC, which renamed it Organizing for America. Under the leadership of the DNC, Organizing for America controls the BarackObama.com domain and website and works closely with the White House New Media Director.

8.5 – Checking the Power of the Governing Party

The legislative branch can significantly affect the power of the governing party by employing a series of checks and balances.

8.5.1 – Introduction

Congress: The U.S. Congress holds legislative power.

The Democratic and Republican Parties can check the power of the governing party by holding seats in the legislative branch of the government. The legislative branch of the United States government is composed of the Senate and House of Representatives. The Senate has the power to consider presidential appointments of judges and executive department heads. It also has the ability to ratify treaties. The House of Representatives has the ability to impeach and the Senate may remove executive and judicial officers. The legislative branch can also check the governing party by starting investigations against the executive branch. The House and Senate may, additionally, override presidential vetoes and have the sole power to declare war.

If one political party holds the executive branch of government then another political party can check the power of the executive branch by holding a majority of seats in the legislative branch. Several examples exist throughout history of this scenario. One such example can be found from the Obama administration in 2010. While the Democratic Party occupied the executive branch, the Republican Party held the majority of seats in the legislative branch. This division of parties between the executive and legislative branches impairs the ability of the president to enact policies, since the legislative branch must first approve these policies. At the same time, the president can veto legislation passed by Congress. The tendency of the Democratic Party to embrace a more active government role in the lives of citizens versus the tendency of the Republican Party to favor limited government intervention in citizens’ lives, highlights the difficulties that arise when a divided government exists.

8.5.2 – Checks and Balances

While the checks and balances system between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches prevents any one branch from becoming tyrannical, this system has also been criticized for maintaining the status quo in government rather than promoting changes. There is a strong possibility for disagreement and conflict within the legislature and between the branches.

8.6 – Uniting Competing Factions within the Party

The two major Democratic and Republican Parties in the United States have historically been ideologically ambiguous in order to accommodate citizens representing a broad spectrum of interests. Instead of adopting polarizing ideological views, the Democratic and Republican Parties stand for the core American values of liberty, democracy, and equal opportunity that appeal to many Americans.

However, some broad differences still exist between the Democratic and Republican Parties. The Democratic Party is most associated with a liberal attitude toward politics that emphasizes a more active government role in regulating the economy, ensuring equality, and providing a social safety net. Meanwhile, the Republican Party tends to favor a more conservative view advocating a free market economic system and limited government intervention in the lives of citizens. Some have even contended that American parties have become more ideologically distinct in the last three decades as party leaders begin to express polarized opinions on national issues.

Even with evidence of increasing polarization between political parties, they still encompass a wide range of constituents with varying viewpoints. Parties unite these disparate viewpoints by developing party platforms that outline party positions on issues and the actions leaders will take to implement them if elected. These platforms frequently adopt middle-of-the-road positions to encompass the interests of a diverse range of supporters. Most of the language used in party platforms is generic to appeal to a wide audience while other sections are narrowly written to appeal to certain factions or interest groups in the party.

Republican National Convention: Platforms created during presidential nominating conventions unite diverse factions within a party by adopting middle-of-the-road positions on issues and addressing special interest groups in some sections.

Platforms are created during presidential nominating conventions where delegates have an opportunity to vote on salient issues. These votes present a majority view on how issues should be handled and how they can be used by the presidential candidate to unite divergent viewpoints under one popular view.

8.7 – Coordinating and Promoting Party Policy

Media: The DNC and RNC utilize various forms of mass media to promote their party’s policies.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Republican National Committee (RNC) help to coordinate and promote party policies, although they are not the central organizations that develop these policies. These organizations are responsible for developing and promoting party platforms, which express the types of views each party embraces. While the planks of platforms do not all necessarily become policies, they can lead to highly politicized debates between parties that become party policy stances. The DNC and RNC promote party policy in a variety of ways through the mass media.

The DNC and RNC coordinate party policy during the Democratic and Republican National Conventions where party platforms are adopted. These conventions allow delegates to vote on issues that can later be incorporated into a presidential candidate ‘s campaign. While relatively little of the party platform is adopted as public policy, the platforms often become politicized because they are more ideological than pragmatic. For example, the debate over abortion between the Democratic and Republican parties has resulted in policy stances that either support or ban the practice of abortion.

Meanwhile, party policy is promoted through a variety of interactions between parties and the mass media. The mass media is utilized to reach out to a nationwide audience. Traditional mass media techniques of issuing press releases and staging televised debates are used to generate attention toward a party’s policies. Parties also take advantage of more modern social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The Democratic and Republican Parties, additionally, maintain sophisticated websites where they can offer comprehensive overviews of various party policies. Television and radio advertisements serve as yet another influential way in which parties can promote their policies.

9 – Party Organization

9.1 – Introduction

9.1.1 – Overview

A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating candidates with aligned political views and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns and educational outreach or protest actions. Parties often espouse an expressed ideology or vision bolstered by a written platform with specific goals, forming a coalition among disparate interests. Throughout most of its history, American politics have been dominated by a two-party system. However, the United States Constitution has always been silent on the issue of political parties; at the time it was signed in 1787, there were no parties in the nation. Indeed, no nation in the world had voter-based political parties. The need to win popular support in a republic led to the American invention of political parties in the 1790s. Americans were especially innovative in devising new campaign techniques that linked public opinion with public policy through the party.

Political scientists and historians have divided the development of America’s two-party system into five eras. The modern two-party system consists of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. In general, since the 1930s the Democratic Party positions itself left of center in American politics, while the Republican Party positions itself as right of center. Several third parties also operate in the United States and from time to time, elect someone to local office.

9.1.2 – Modern U.S. Political Party System

Andrew Jackson: Democrats hail Andrew Jackson as the founder of the party.

The modern political party system in the United States is a two-party system dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. These two parties have won every United States presidential election since 1852 and have controlled the United States Congress since at least 1856.

The Democratic Party is one of two major political parties in the United States. It is the oldest political party in the world. The Democratic Party, since the division of the Republican Party in the election of 1912, has positioned itself as progressive and supporting labor in economic as well as social matters. The economic philosophy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which has strongly influenced American liberalism, has shaped much of the party’s agenda since 1932. Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition had controlled the White House until 1968. In 2004, it was the largest political party, with 72 million voters (42.6% of 169 million registered) claiming affiliation. The president of the United States, Barack Obama, is the fifteenth Democrat to hold the office, and since the 2006 midterm elections, the Democratic Party is the majority party for the United States Senate.

9.2 – National Convention

9.2.1 – Introduction

1876 Democratic National Convention: The 1876 Democratic National Convention at the Merchants Exchange Building in St. Louis, Missouri.

A United States presidential nominating convention is a political convention held every four years in the United States by most of the political parties who will be fielding nominees in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. The formal purpose of such a convention is to select the party’s nominee for President, as well as to adopt a statement of party principles and goals known as the platform and adopt the rules for the party’s activities, including the presidential nominating process for the next election cycle. Due to changes in election laws, the primary and caucus calendar, and the manner in which political campaigns are run, conventions since the latter half of the 20thcentury have virtually abdicated their original roles, and are today mostly ceremonial affairs.

Roll Call DNC 2008: Roll call of states during the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Generally, usage of “presidential nominating convention” refers to the two major parties’ quadrennial events: the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention. Some minor parties also select their nominees by convention, including the Green Party, Socialist Party USA, Libertarian Party, Constitution Party, and Reform Party USA.

9.2.2 – Logistics

From the point of view of the parties, the convention cycle begins with the Call to Convention. Usually issued about 18 months in advance, the Call is an invitation from the national party to the state and territory parties to convene to select a presidential nominee. It also sets out the number of delegates to be awarded to each, as well as the rules for the nomination process.

Each party sets its own rules for the participation and format of the convention. Broadly speaking, each U.S. state and territory party is apportioned a select number of voting representatives, individually known as delegates and collectively as the delegation. Each party uses its own formula for determining the size of each delegation, factoring in such considerations as population, proportion of that state’s Congressional representatives or state government officials who are members of the party, and the state’s voting patterns in previous presidential elections. The selection of individual delegates and their alternates is also governed by the bylaws of each state party, or in some cases by state law. The 2004Democratic National Convention counted 4,353 delegates and 611 alternates. The 2004 Republican National Convention had 2,509 delegates and 2,344 alternates.

The convention is typically held in a major city selected by the national party organization 18–24 months before the election is to be held. As the two major conventions have grown into large, publicized affairs with significant economic impact, cities today compete vigorously to be awarded host responsibilities, citing their meeting venues, lodging facilities, and entertainment as well as offering economic incentives. Historically, Midwestern cities such as Chicago, Illinois—which since 1860 has held 25 Republican and Democratic Conventions combined, more than any other urban center in the USA—have become the favored hosts.

9.2.3 – Proceedings

Each convention produces a statement of principles known as its platform, containing goals and proposals known as planks. Relatively little of a party platform is even proposed as public policy. Much of the language is generic, while other sections are narrowly written to appeal to factions or interest groups within the party. Since the 1970s, voting has for the most part been perfunctory; the selection of the major parties’ nominees have rarely been in doubt, so a single ballot has always been sufficient. Each delegation announces its vote tallies, usually accompanied with some boosterism of their state or territory. The delegation may pass, nominally to retally their delegates’ preferences, but often to allow a different delegation to give the leading candidate the honor of casting the majority-making vote.

1976 Republican National Convention: President Gerald Ford, as the Republican nominee, shakes hands with nomination foe Ronald Reagan on the closing night of the 1976 Republican National Convention. Vice-Presidential Candidate Bob Dole is on the far left, then Nancy Reagan, Governor Ronald Reagan is at the center shaking hands with President Gerald Ford, Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller is just to the right of Ford, followed by Susan Ford and First Lady Betty Ford.

The evening’s speeches are reserved for major speeches by notable, respected public figures. The speakers at the 2004 Democratic convention included Ted Kennedy, a forty-year veteran of the United States Senate, and Jimmy Carter, a former Democratic President, while at the Republican convention speakers included Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Governor George Pataki of New York, two of the largest states in the nation.

The final day of the convention usually features the formal acceptance speeches from the nominees for president and vice president. Despite recent controversy maintaining that recent conventions were scripted from beginning to end, and that very little news comes out of the convention, the acceptance speech has always been televised by the networks, because it receives the highest ratings of the convention. In addition, the halls of the convention are packed at this time, with many party loyalists sneaking in. Afterwards, balloons are usually dropped and the delegates celebrate the nomination.

9.3 – The National Party Organization

9.3.1 – Introduction

National Republican Elephant: “The Third-Term Panic” by Thomas Nast, originally published in Harper’s Magazine 7 November 1874.

The modern political party system in the United States is a two-party system dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. These two parties have won every United States presidential election since 1852 and have controlled the United States Congress since at least 1856. Third parties have achieved relatively minor representation at national and state levels. Among the two major parties, the Democratic Party generally positions itself as left-of-center in American politics and supports a modern liberal platform, while the Republican Party generally positions itself as right-of-center and supports a conservative platform.

Democratic Party Logo: Logo of the Democratic Party of the United States. Light blue D inside a darker blue circle.

Many minor or third political parties appear from time to time. They serve as means to advocate policies that the two major political parties eventually adopt. At various times, the Socialist Party, the Farmer-Labor Party and the Populist Party had considerable local strength, and then faded away. Some exceptions exist, like Minnesota’s Farmer–Labor Party merging into the state’s Democratic Party. At present, the Libertarian Party is the most successful third party. New York State has a number of additional third parties that sometimes run their own candidates for office or nominate the nominees of the two main parties. In the District of Columbia, the D.C. Statehood Party has served as a strong third party behind the Democratic Party and Republican Party.

9.3.2 – Organization of American Political Parties

American political parties are more loosely organized than those in other countries. The two major parties, in particular, have no formal organization at the national level that controls membership, activities, or policy positions. Thus, for an American to say that he or she is a member of the Democratic or Republican party is quite different from a Briton stating that he or she is a member of the Conservative or Labour party.

In the United States, one can often become a “member” of a party merely by stating that fact. Such participation does not restrict one’s choices in any way. It also does not give a person any particular rights or obligations within the party, other than possibly allowing that person to vote in that party’s primary elections. A person may choose to attend meetings of one local party committee one day and another party committee the next day. The sole factor that brings one “closer to the action” is the quantity and quality of participation in party activities.

9.3.3 – Party Identification

Party identification becomes somewhat formalized when a person runs for partisan office. In most states, this means declaring oneself a candidate for the nomination of a particular party and intent to enter that party’s primary election. A party committee may choose to endorse one or another of those seeking the nomination, but in the end the choice is up to those who choose to vote in the primary.

The result is that American political parties have weak central organizations and little central ideology. A party cannot prevent a person who disagrees with the majority of positions of the party or actively works against the party’s aims from claiming party membership, so long as the voters who choose to vote in the primary elections elect that person. Once in office, an elected official may change parties simply by declaring such intent.

Both parties have stopped being engines for voter mobilization, however. Fewer and fewer Americans identify with one another party, preferring instead to be known as “independent” voters. For example, a 2011 USA Today review of state voter rolls indicates that registered Democrats declined in 25 of 28 states. Democrats were still the largest political party with more than 42 million voters (compared with 30 million Republicans and 24 million independents). But in 2011 Democrats numbers shrank 800,000, and from 2008 they were down by 1.7 million, or 3.9%

9.3.4 – Party Committees

Political parties: The symbol of the Republican Party in the U.S.

At the federal level, each of the two major parties has a national committee that acts as the hub for fundraising and campaign activities. The exact composition of these committees is different for each party, but they are made up primarily of representatives from state parties and affiliated organizations. However, the national committees do not have the power to direct the activities of members of the party.

Aerial View of Capitol Hill: Aerial view of Capitol Hill showing the Capitol, Supreme Court Building, Library of Congress, and congressional office buildings.

Both parties also have separate campaign committees which work to elect candidates at a specific level. The most significant of these are the Hill committees; the common name for the political party committees that work to elect members of their own party to United States Congress (“Hill” refers to Capitol Hill, where the seat of Congress, the Capitol, is located, ). The four major committees are part of the Democratic and Republican parties and each work to help members of their party get elected to each house.

9.4 – State and Local Party Organization

9.4.1 – Introduction

The organization of parties is generally at three different levels: national, state, and local. National consists of the quadrennial national convention, the party’s national chairpersons, and the party’s national committee. Next is the state, which consists of state central committees and state conventions, and congressional district committees. Lastly, there is the local level of organizations, which include city and county committees, precinct and ward committees, party activists and volunteers, and party identifiers and voters. Recent trends between the three levels are that they tend to overlap, and more often then not, state and local parties have more influence than the national party around their region, and their decisions tend to override those of the national party.

Tea Party National Rally: Tea Party protesters walk towards the United States Capitol during the Taxpayer March on Washington, September 12, 2009.

The basic structure of a political party would be National Committees, Leadership, National Conventions, States and Localities, and informal groups. National Committees are the national policy creators of each party. Chairpersons are usually selected by the president of the party in power and the party national committee chooses the chairperson for the other party. National conventions are held every four years for nominating presidential candidates. Parties are structured at State and Local levels. Informal groups would be groups like interest groups or the National Federation of Democratic Women.

Both parties also have separate campaign committees which work to elect candidates at a specific level. The most significant of these are the Hill committees, which work to elect candidates to each house of Congress. State parties exist in all fifty states, though their structures differ according to state law, as well as party rules at both the national and the state level.

9.4.2 – Political Party Strength in State Governments

Currently, the majority of the overall number of seats held in the state legislatures has been switching between the two parties every few years. As of the U.S. gubernatorial elections of 2010, the Republican party holds an outright majority of approximately 440 with 3,890 seats (53% of total) compared to the Democrat party’s number of 3,450 (47% of total) seats elected on a partisan ballot. Of the 7,382 seats in all of the state legislatures combined, independents and third parties account for only 15 members, not counting the 49 members of the Nebraska Legislature, which is the only legislature in the nation to hold non-partisan elections to determine its members. Due to the results of the 2010 elections, Republicans took control of an additional 19 state legislative chambers, giving them majority control of both chambers in 25 states versus the Democrats’ majority control of both chambers in only 16 states, with 8 states having split or inconclusive control of both chambers (not including Nebraska); previous to the 2010 elections, it was Democrats who controlled both chambers in 27 states versus the Republican party having total control in only 14 states, with eight states divided and Nebraska being nonpartisan.

9.4.3 – Local Government in the United States

Local government in the United States is structured in accordance with the laws of the various individual states, territories, and the District of Columbia. Typically each state has at least two separate tiers of local government: counties and municipalities. Some states further have their counties divided into townships. There are several different types of local government at the municipal level, generally reflecting the needs of different levels of population densities; typical examples include the city, town, borough, and village.

9.4.4 – Parties in City Councils

Most cities have City Councils. These are sometimes elected officials who meet for a portion of the year on designated days and hours. There is a president and a president pro tempore in city councils. Usually the majority party (i.e. Democrat or Republican) has the president in their party. The city is split into districts in which the councilman or councilwoman represents.

9.4.5 – Linkage Institutions

Linkage institutions provide a way for people to get involved in government and the political process. Political parties provide many ways for individuals to become involved in the political process, from working to get votes or to actually running for office. They are not the only linkage institutions; others include blogs, non-partisan local governments, and school boards.

9.5 – Congressional Campaign Committees

9.5.1 – Democratic Party

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is the Democratic Hill committee for the United States House of Representatives, working to elect Democrats to that body. They play a critical role in recruiting candidates, raising funds, and organizing races in districts that are expected to yield politically notable or close elections. The structure of the committee consists, essentially, of the Chairperson, their staff, and other Democratic members of Congress that serve in roles supporting the functions of the committee. The Chairperson of the DCCC is the fourth ranking position among House Democrats, after the Minority Leader, the Minority Whip and the Democratic Caucus Chairperson.

Of the four congressional campaign committees, the DCCC, with a staff of 25, has the largest in-house research department. In a February 2012 profile of the department, Roll Call wrote that “The DCCC’s team of mostly 20-somethings researches opposition targets for eight weeks at a time, scouring news clips and YouTube videos and traveling across the country to comb through public records, all in hopes of finding a good hit. Discoveries go into hundred-page research books on their targets that are used as bait to recruit candidates, leaked to reporters or cited in campaign advertisements and mail pieces.”

The position of DCCC committee chair was assumed by Rahm Emanuel after the death of the previous chair, Bob Matsui at the end of the 2004 election cycle. Emanuel led the Democratic Party’s effort to capture the majority in the House of Representatives in the 2006 elections. After Emanuel’s election as chairman of the Democratic Caucus, Chris Van Hollen became committee chair for the 110thCongress, and thus for the 2008 elections. He continued through the 2010 elections. For the 2012 election cycle, Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appointed congressman Steve Israel to serve as the committee’s chair.

9.5.2 – Republican Party

Pete Sessions: Congressman Pete Sessions, chairman of the NRCC.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is the Republican Hill committee which works to elect Republicans to the United States House of Representatives. The NRCC was formed in 1866, when the Republican caucuses of the House and Senate formed a “Congressional Committee”. It supports the election of Republicans to the House through direct financial contributions to candidates and Republican Party organizations; technical and research assistance to Republican candidates and Party organizations; voter registration, education and turnout programs; and other Party-building activities. It is a registered 527 group, and its current slogan is “Building a Lasting Majority.”

The NRCC is governed by its chairman, U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (TX-32), and an executive committee composed of Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Chairman is elected by the House Republican Conference after each Congressional election. Republican Leader John Boehner and the seven other elected leaders of the Republican Conference of the House of Representatives serve as ex-officio members of the NRCC’s executive committee.

9.6 – The Party in Government

9.6.1 – Introduction

A majority government is a government formed by a governing party that has an absolute majority of seats in the legislature or parliament in a parliamentary system. This is as opposed to a minority government, where even the largest party wins only a plurality of seats and thus must constantly bargain for support from other parties in order to pass legislation and avoid being defeated on motions of no confidence. The term “majority government” may also be used for a stable coalition of two or more parties to form an absolute majority. One example of such an electoral coalition is in Australia, where the Liberal and National parties have run as an electoral bloc for decades.

Another example is the current coalition government in the United Kingdom, which is composed of the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties. The conservatives won the most seats of any single party in the 2010 election, but fell short of an absolute majority. However, by combining with the Liberal Democrats a solid majority in the House of Commons was created. This is the first true coalition government in the UK since World War II.

9.6.2 – Divided Government

Divided Government in the United States: Graphical depiction of the party division of U.S. Congress, 1933-2009.

In the United States, divided government describes a situation in which one party controls the White House and another party controls one or both houses of the United States Congress. Divided government is suggested by some to be an undesirable product of the separation of powers in the United States’ political system. Earlier in the 20th century, divided government was rare, but since the 1970s it has become increasingly common. Mainly in part due to the Watergate scandal which has popularized the idea that a divided government is a beneficial for the country.

Some conservative and libertarian groups see divided government as beneficial, since it may encourage more policing of those in power by the opposition, as well as limiting spending and the expansion of undesirable laws. In Parliamentary systems such as the United Kingdom, the executive relies on Parliamentary support for its existence. In the United States, however, the constitution is designed to create conflict between the executive and legislative branches of government. Despite the perceived problems of divided government, the President and Congress are often able, out of necessity, to establish an effective working relationship.

10 – Minor Political Parties

10.1 – The Role of Third Parties

Ross Perot: Ross Perot is the last third party presidential candidate to gain a substantial number of votes in the general election.

American politics operate on a two-party system, meaning that two major political parties dominate voting in most elections and consequently dominate elected offices. In modern United States elections, the two major parties are the Democratic and Republican parties. These parties are associated with liberal and conservative views respectively, and nearly all elected officials are affiliated with one of the two. Campaign endorsements, funding, and resources are allocated to candidates on the basis of nomination by one of these two parties.

Although the American political structure has consistently been a two-party system, third parties occasionally influence elections, and third party candidates sometimes obtain elected positions. “Third party” technically refers to the third largest party in a two-party system, but in the U.S. it generally refers to any party running in an election other than the major two. Many third parties have gained some traction throughout American history — at one point, the Socialist Party held 600 mayoral offices, and Theodore Roosevelt obtained a signifiant number of votes in his presidential bid as the Progressive Party candidate in 1912. Today, the largest three “third parties” as measured by the number of registered voters affiliated with them are the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and the Constitution Party. None of them hold a substantial number of public offices.

There are numerous logistical reasons third parties have not been more successful in the U.S. (as they have been in other democratic countries), including the country’s election structure, ballot rules, and debate rules. American elections are structured as “winner-take-all” votes — in other words, regardless of the margin of victory, the candidate that wins the popular vote attains office while the runner-up does not gain representation. This system is in contrast to proportional representation systems, in which parties are allocated representation based on the proportion of the popular vote they receive. With regards to ballot access, candidates for major elections, such as presidential elections, must meet state-determined criteria to be included on election ballots. Ballot access laws often mandate that candidates pay large fees or collect a large number of signatures to be listed, which often restricts the ability of third party candidates to be put on the ballot. Lastly, since the onset of televised presidential debates in the 1960s, with only a couple of exceptions, third party candidates have been barred from participation. This policy limits their ability to publicize their views and gain a following among the electorate.

While many electoral policies in the U.S. stack the odds against third party success, perhaps the greatest barrier to third party candidates is the vast amount of resources that major parties hold. The two major parties have shifted names, platforms, and constituencies over time, but they have always served as gatekeepers to financial and human resources. Moreover, throughout the past few decades, major party politicians have been able to neutralize third party threats by adopting or discrediting the views of third party candidates. Both major parties are at risk of losing voters if third party campaigns gain traction, so they have both tended to act in ways that promote the two party system.

10.2 – Ideological Third Parties and Splinter Parties

Third Party Candidates: Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate, is accused of “stealing” votes away from Al Gore, a Democrat, in the 2000 election.

America’s democratic system is predominantly a two party system. This means that two major political parties dominate in most elections and consequently dominate elected office. Currently, the two major American parties are the Democratic and Republican parties, although the top two parties change over time. A third party is any party that supports a candidate for election other than the two major political parties; at the current moment, a third party would be any party other than the Democratic and Republican parties. Though third parties represent a very small fraction of Americans participating in politics, they do influence elections by drawing votes away from either of the two main parties. Third parties tend to be more ideological and extremist than the Democrats or Republicans. Since third party candidates do not have a legitimate chance of winning national election given the structure of the current system, most third parties do not tend to try to pursue moderate voters and instead stay close to their ideological roots.

The three main third parties are the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and the Constitution Party. All have over 100,000 registered voters. However, even as these parties are the largest of the third parties, they represent only a fraction of American voters and are more ideologically oriented than Democrats or Republicans. The Libertarian Party supports laissez-faire policies, small government, and is characterized by being socially liberal and fiscally conservative. The Green Party is a progressive party that emphasizes eco-socialism. The Constitution Party is a socially and fiscally conservative party backed by the religious right.Beyond the Libertarian, Green, and Constitution Parties, third parties in American politics tend even farther towards the fringe, emphasizing ideology and avoiding speaking to a broad base. An example of a small right-wing third party would be the America First Party. The AFP is characterized as paleoconservative because they are socially and fiscally conservative. The AFP seeks to enact a smaller government by eliminating federal programs, such as the Department of Education. The AFP further seeks to cut taxes and allow for more robust integration of church and state.

An example of an extreme left wing party is the Peace and Freedom Party. The PFP was created in 1968 as a way to protest participation in the Vietnam War. Today, the PFP advocates to protect the environment. It seeks to advance personal liberties and universal, high quality and free access to education and health care. The PFP seeks to enact a more socialist economy.

Some third parties are organized entirely around one issue, rather than seeking to enact a broad, fringe ideology. For example, the United States Marijuana Party seeks to end the war on drugs and legalize marijuana. Though it is unlikely that anyone from the United States Marijuana Party will ever be elected to national office, they seek to raise attention to the issues that they find important and put these issues on the national stage.

10.3 – The Impact of Minor Parties

Third parties face many obstacles in American politics. They are usually not even allowed on ballots for due to lack of popular support and signatures to warrant a place under local laws. The problem feeds upon itself as the marginality of third parties means that they are not well known enough to attract national attention, and therefore unable to raise the funds that could promote their politics and make them well known. Numerically, third parties have won very few elected positions. Since 1877, there have been 31 U.S. senators, 111 U.S. representatives, and 22 governors that were not affiliated with a major political party.

However, third parties do play an important role in national politics. Third parties usually organize and mobilize around a single issue or position, putting pressure on candidates from major political parties to address these issues. For example, segregationist American Independent Party candidate George Wallace gained 13.5% of the popular vote in the 1968 election. In response, the Republican Party adopted a “Southern Strategy” to win the support of conservative Democrats in the South who opposed the new Civil Rights movement.

Although it is unlikely that a third party candidate will ever garner a plurality of the vote, they can influence the election by taking votes away from a major party candidate. This was at issue during the 2000 election when Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader took votes away from Democrat Al Gore, a situation that some felt contributed to the victory of Republican George W. Bush.

11 – Modern Political Parties

11.1 – Red States vs. Blue States

During the 2000 US presidential election, the term “red states” was coined to mean those states whose residents primarily vote for the Republican Party and “blue states” as those states whose residents primarily vote for the Democratic Party. The terms have been expanded since 2000 to differentiate between conservative-leaning states, depicted in red, and liberal-leaning states, depicted in blue.

Red States and Blue States: News media frequently display maps in blue, red, and purple to indicate primarily Democratic-voting states, Republican-voting states, and middle ground states.

The association of states with colors to indicate their party voting preferences was not a new phenomenon prior to the 2000 presidential election. In fact, the advent of color television encouraged many television news reporters to depict state voting preferences through color-coded electoral maps. The 2000 presidential election, however, was the first time that red became the standardized color for the Republican Party and blue became the standardized color for the Democratic Party. Previously, color schemes differed across networks. For instance, in the 1980 presidential election NBC used blue for predominately Democratic-voting states and red for predominately Republican-voting states while ABC employed the opposite color scheme. Other networks alternated red and blue between the Democratic and Republican Parties every four years.

The 2000 presidential election proved significant in standardizing red and blue states with the Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively, because of the confusion surrounding the results of the election. Major media outlets started conforming to the same color scheme because the electoral map was continually in view and conformity created easy viewer comprehension. The association of blue with Democrats and red with Republicans is now part of the lexicon of American journalism and has informally been used by each party. Interestingly, though, there was no coordinated media effort to designate Democratic states blue and Republican states red on the 2000 election night and neither party’s national committee has officially accepted the red and blue color designations.

Despite the nearly nationwide acceptance of Republican red states and Democratic blue states, the paradigm has come under criticism. Some argue that assigning partisanship to states is only useful in understanding voting preferences in the Electoral College. The Republican and Democratic Parties within a given state may have platforms that depart from national party platforms. Such a situation can lead a state to favor one party in state and local elections and another party in presidential elections. The designation of states as either being red or blue also ignores those states that are closely divided between Democratic and Republican candidates. Another criticism of the red state-blue state paradigm is that it has not been entirely predictive of how states will vote. For example, in the 2008 presidential election Democratic candidate Barack Obama captured the majority vote in many red states that had not voted Democratic in many years, such as North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia.

11.2 – Party Realignments, Dealignments, and Tipping

11.2.1 – Introduction

Realigning election are terms from political science and political history describing a dramatic change in the political system. Scholars frequently apply the term to American elections and occasionally to other countries. Usually it means the coming to power for several decades of a new coalition, replacing an old dominant coalition of the other party as in 1896 when the GOP became dominant, or 1932 when the Democrats became dominant. More specifically, it refers to American national elections in which there are sharp changes in issues, party leaders, the regional and demographic bases of power of the two parties, and structure or rules of the political system (such as voter eligibility or financing), resulting in a new political power structure that lasts for decades.

Political realignments can be sudden (1–4 years) or can take place more gradually (5–20 years). Political scientists and historians often disagree about which elections are realignments and what defines a realignment, and even whether realignments occur. The terms themselves are somewhat arbitrary, however, and usage among political scientists and historians does vary.

11.2.2 – Realignment

The central holding of realignment theory, first developed in the political scientist V. O. Key, Jr.’s 1955 article, “A Theory of Critical Elections,” is that American elections, parties and policymaking routinely shift in swift, dramatic sweeps. V. O. Key Jr. concluded that systematic patterns are identifiable in American national elections such that cycles occur on a regular schedule: once every 36-years or so. This period of roughly 30 years fits with the notion that these cycles are closely linked to generational change. For social scientists, this point is important, since it helps to provide an objective sociological basis for the theory. Tipping refers to the end of an era and the crystallization of another.

A great example of realignment came at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency. In the 2008 elections, the Democrats expanded their majorities in the Congress, and won the Presidency decisively. This was due to the momentum carried over from the Democrats’ 2006 successes, as well as the continued unpopularity of President George W. Bush, whose administration was now faced with a financial crisis and economic recession. Some people believe that 2008 is possibly a realigning election with a long-lasting impact, just as the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt was in 1932 and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 were. President Obama was reelected in the 2012 election as well, becoming only the third Democrat to win a majority of the popular vote more than once while losing only two states that he had won in 2008.

11.2.3 – Dealignment

A central component of realignment is the change in behavior of voting groups. Realignment means the switching of voter preference from one party to another, in contrast to dealignment ­ where a voter group abandons a party to become independent or nonvoting. Dealignment, in short, is a trend or process whereby a large portion of the electorate abandons its previous partisan affiliation, without developing a new one to replace it.

Furthermore, dealignment refers to a decline by voters to their political party; that is a decrease in party loyalty and voters be less attached to their party. This dealignment shows that short term factors might play a larger role than usual in whether a candidate receives a vote from someone of his party. Several factors can be attributed to partisan dealignment, such as a greater political awareness and socialisation, intensive mass media coverage and decline of deference; disillusionment both with parties and politicians, and most importantly, the poor performance of government. Many scholars argue that the trends in elections in the United States over the last several decades are best characterized as dealignment.

11.2.4 – Tipping

Obama Campaign 2008: Some people believe that 2008 is possibly a realigning election with a long-lasting impact, just as the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt was in 1932 and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 were. President Obama was reelected in the 2012 election as well, becoming only the third Democrat to win a majority of the popular vote more than once while losing only two states that he had won in 2008.

Tipping refers to the end of an era and the crystallization of another. More specifically, tipping point is a point in time when a group —or a large number of group members— rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice. The phrase was first used in sociology by Morton Grodzins when he adopted the phrase from physics where it referred to the adding a small amount of weight to a balanced object until the additional weight caused the object to suddenly and completely topple, or tip. Grodzins studied integrating American neighborhoods in the early 1960s. He discovered that most of the white families remained in the neighborhood as long as the comparative number of black families remained very small. But, at a certain point, when “one too many” black families arrived, the remaining white families would move out en masse in a process known as white flight. He called that moment the “tipping point”.

11.3 – The Rise of Independents

11.3.1 – Background

George Washington: First President of the United States

In politics, an independent or nonpartisan politician is an individual not affiliated to any political party. Independents may hold a centrist viewpoint between those of major political parties. Sometimes, they hold a viewpoint more extreme than any major party, or they may have a viewpoint based on issues that they do not feel that any major party addresses. Other Independent politicians may be associated with a political party, were former members of it, or have views that align with it but choose not to stand under its label.

Historically, George Washington was the only president elected as an Independent, as he was not formally affiliated with any party during his two terms. John Tyler was expelled from the Whig Party in September 1841 and remained effectively an Independent for the remainder of his presidency, later returning to the Democrats. He briefly sought re- election in 1844 as a National Democrat, but he withdrew, as he feared to split the Democratic vote. Recent prominent Independent candidates for president of the United States include John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992, and Ralph Nader in the 2004 and 2008 elections. In 2008, Independent Presidential candidate, Ralph Nader formed Independent parties in New Mexico, Delaware, and elsewhere to gain ballot access in several states. This strategy has been pursued by several Independent candidates for Federal races, including Joe Lieberman (Connecticut for Lieberman), since in some states it is easier to gain ballot access by creating a new political party than to gather signatures for a nominating petition.

11.3.2 – Independents in Congress

There have been several Independents elected to the United States Senate throughout history. Notable examples include David Davis of Illinois (a former Republican) in the nineteenth century, and Harry F. Byrd, Jr. of Virginia (who had been elected to his first term as a Democrat) in the twentieth century. Some officials have been elected as members of a party but became an Independent while in office (without being elected as such), such as Wayne Morse of Oregon or Virgil Goode of Virginia. Nebraska senator George W. Norris was elected for four terms as a Republican before changing to an Independent after the Republicans lost their majority in Congress in 1930. Norris won re-election as an Independent in 1936, but later lost his final re-election attempt to Republican Kenneth S. Wherry in 1942. Vermont senator Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party to become an Independent in 2001.

11.3.3 – Independents in State and Local Offices

In August 2008, there were 12 people who held offices as Independents in state legislatures. There were four state senators, one from Kentucky, one from Oregon, one from Tennessee, and one from New Mexico. The representatives came from the states of Louisiana (two), Maine (two), Vermont (two), and Virginia (two). In the 2008 general elections, Wisconsin State Assemblyman Jeffrey Wood left the Republican Party and won reelection as an Independent. After the 2008 primary election, New Mexico State Senator Joseph Carraro left the Republican Party and registered as an Independent. He did not run for reelection.

In November 2005, Manny Diaz was elected Mayor of Miami, Florida as an Independent. On June 19, 2007, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg switched his party affiliation from Republican to Independent. Oscar Goodman, Mayor of Las Vegas, Nevada switched his affiliation to Independent from Democrat in December 2009.


Originally published by Lumen Learning – Boundless Political Science under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

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