An interest group is an organized collection of individuals who work to influence government and policy. There are several different types of interest groups. Economic groups can be divided into categories such as business groups, labor groups, agricultural groups, and professional groups. Noneconomic groups include public interest groups, single-issue groups, civil rights groups, and ideological groups. Various theories explain why interest groups form. Pluralism suggests that diverse interests represent a variety of views and demands and that political powers are distributed among these various groups. Disturbance theory, on the other hand, asserts that interest groups change in response to complex issues in society and calls on the government to react to these changes. Transaction theory refutes pluralism, arguing that government actors only respond to a narrow set of interests.
Interest groups are important to the political process because they bring a diversity of views and demands before the popularly elected government. Interest groups also foster the development of social capital, or the maintenance of relationships and networks that allow citizens to solve collective problems. However, interest groups have their downsides. One is factionalism: while a multitude of interest groups may represent many problems, only a small number of them garner the government’s attention. This may be due to the economic bias in the interest group system, where moneyed interests are more likely to be represented and catered to. Interest groups work to influence government through inside lobbying, which is when groups create formal relationships with governmental officials. When interest groups rally public support for policies or political candidates, they engage in outside lobbying. The last attempt to reform lobbying activity was in 2007, though in 2021 President Biden signed a series of executive orders limiting lobbyist involvement in the executive branch.
A political party is a group of people who share a common political ideology and work to get their members elected into government. In addition to scouting and electing candidates, political parties raise money and work to influence governmental policy. Parties are also heavily involved in registering new voters. Party systems take on different forms. In the United States, we have what is called a two-party system, where there are two major political parties involved in government activity. In contrast, much of Europe uses a multiparty system where the government is made up of multiple parties that must share power. Single-party systems, like those in China and North Korea, are political systems that consist of only one party.
Some scholars argue that political parties play a decreasing role in US politics due to the rise of the candidate-centered campaign. In candidate-centered campaigns, candidates are increasingly less reliant on parties to run for office. These candidates may be independently wealthy, and in recent years there has been a rise of populist candidates who are less reliant on traditional political structures. Lower voter registration rates, declines in party activism, economic factors, and the rise of communication technologies illustrate a weakening of party systems around the world.
Elections are formal decision-making processes in which groups determine which individuals will hold public office. Elections are a vital part of democracy that rests on the idea of popular will since they are the mechanism by which people express their preferences, and they are one of the most important ways people influence politicians to move in one direction or the other in terms of policy. Elections face problems in that sometimes voters do not have all the required information to make decisions that best represent their interests. Moneyed interests can have a heavy influence on election outcomes, and the people’s will can be misrepresented when political actors choose to make decisions that differ from voters’ intentions. Relative to other countries, America has low voter turnout; a significant number of people registered to vote do not actually turn out on Election Day to cast a ballot. There are a variety of reasons for this, including voter fatigue, the lack of an Election Day holiday, onerous registration requirements, and low levels of social capital.
Americans vote in electoral districts that are drawn to be roughly the same size in terms of population. The people vote directly on members of the House and Senate, whereas the president is elected through the Electoral College. Elections are won either by plurality rule (most votes) or majority rule (at least half). Ballot initiatives and referendums represent direct democracy, in which people select policy preferences rather than relying on elected officials to vote on them. Some consider them a more democratic form of participation. In the United States, the federal government plays a limited role in administering elections, leaving the states to create their own rules and regulations in terms of when people can vote and how. Elections are run differently around the world. In many countries, voter registration is automatic, and in some countries it is even compulsory. While Election Day is a fixed day on the US calendar, in other countries elections can be called at any time.