Chapter Study Outline

  1. Introduction
    1. Political parties and interest groups often run campaigns completely independently of candidates, and their efforts can begin long before and last long after an election season.
    2. Both groups act as intermediaries between the public and the officeholders, and, for many voters, are the basis on which the decision of who to vote for is made. In many cases, voters will decide on a cause or a political party to support before they even consider the candidates themselves.
  2. Political Parties
    1. The goal of electing public officials is what unites political parties and what distinguishes them from other groups. The two main political parties in the United States—the Democrats and the Republicans—work differently, but both strive to achieve the same electoral end.
    2. In many cases, the seemingly simple questions of who makes up and who leads political parties are difficult to answer. In order to better understand them, political scientist V. O. defined three manifestations of political parties:
      1. The party-as-electorate includes all citizens who identify with the party, whether or not they are registered as party members, so long as they self-identify as a member or vote for the political party in primary or general elections.
      2. The party-as-organization comprises the institutions, such as the national committees, that administer party affairs and act directly towards the goal of electing candidates to government
      3. The party-in-government is made up of all elected and appointed officials who are affiliated with the party and who further the party’s political goals, such as President Obama or Speaker of the House Boehner.
    3. Parties can promote democratic government and facilitate citizenship by aggregating and articulating the interests of citizens and politicians; by organizing coalitions of smaller interest groups; by assisting in coordinating elections; by coordinating the legislative process; and finally, by facilitating collective political action.
    4. However, political parties developed in part to serve the particular interests of politicians, which is one of the reasons why the Founders feared parties (though they did participate in them).
    5. Because of the two-party system in the United States, it is rare for independent, or third party, candidates to successfully run for federal office, in part because the two major parties will frequently adapt over time and geography to conform to the political terrain, leaving third parties with little room to establish a base.
    6. Political parties play central, sometimes active, roles during campaigns, with party-in-the-electorate, party-as-organization, and party-in-government all having a degree of impact on both the candidates and the public.
      1. National committees, state committees, and legislative campaign committees recruit candidates and raise money for their campaigns. They also work to minimize retirement within their ranks, because incumbents are more likely to win elections than newcomers. Parties also will focus on closely contested races in order to maximize the utility of their resources.
      2. Traditionally, the party organization also selects their nominees for general elections, but primary elections have replaced this convention. Then, as now, parties were not necessarily unified in their decisions and strategies in who to support, though generally parties wanted candidates who would support party agenda.
      3. For better or worse, candidates with a party label are tied to the party’s elected leaders. And when the party controls one branch of government, candidates and officials associated with the party are judged on the basis of almost anything that occurs during the party’s reign.
    7. Political parties must also take into consideration the rules of any election, as well as the political and economic realities in which the campaign must function. Rules on campaign finance and concerning primary elections constrain how parties can get their own candidates nominated, and how they can raise funds, while the political climate and recent events affect how citizens will vote, usually outside of the influence of the party itself.
    8. Some observers have claimed political parties are in decline, but research shows that they have become more, not less, unified in government in the last 40 years and are able to exert better control of the legislative process.
  3. Interest Groups
    1. An interest group, or a collection of people with the shared goal of influencing public policy, are different from political parties in that they do not run their own candidates for office, and they typically seek more specific policy goals than parties.
    2. The largest type of interest group represents businesses or corporations; other types of interest groups include those that represent occupations, labor unions, and those that represent social groups or ideological perspectives (called public interest groups).
    3. There are multiple reasons why there are such a large number of interest groups in the United States, especially since the mid twentieth century, and why many have become more active in elections:
      1. As the government has expanded on all levels and has taken on more responsibilities, it has created further incentive for the entities and the people it is now responsible for to organize and advocate for themselves.
      2. Interest groups have improved their strategies for organizational maintenance, such as maintaining links with the public like direct mail-fundraising, e-mail lists and Web sites.
      3. Prominent and successful social movements have provided models off of which interest groups can base their own actions.
      4. The realities of federal tax and campaign finance laws encourage organizations to create separate affiliated groups for distinct purposes.
    4. Although the majority of interest groups are not involved in campaigns, those that do participate will endorse and support candidates financially often through affiliated PACs, through membership mobilization, and sometimes through independent advertising.
    5. Interest groups, especially those representing large groups, will speak to and sometimes “for” entire sections of the population, such as NAACP speaking for African Americans. But the support of an interest group does not always equate support from that section of the voting population.
    6. Just as tax and campaign laws have increased the number of interest groups, so too do they constrain their actions. These laws, as well as the actions of candidates and the agendas the interest groups support, all affect the strategies they use during elections.
  4. Evaluating Political Parties and Interest Groups
    1. Both groups are scrutinized as to whether they help voters make informed choices, or if they just manipulate voters, as some interest groups are notoriously misleading in the information that they disseminate. However, in many cases, voters use interest group endorsement and political party affiliation as helpful tools in making their decision,
    2. Because both political parties and interest groups provide for competitive elections, represent a diversity of perspectives, and the political parties are relatively equal in resources, support, and candidate quality, these organizations can be seen as promoting free choice. At the same time, the sidelining of third parties and the importance of wealthy constituencies that these groups cause also raise the question as to how much free choice they do provide.
    3. Whether or not the information put out by political parties and interest groups leads to more deliberation in an election has been debated.
    4. The normative goal that parties and interest groups most strongly advance is that of free speech, as both organizations give a voice to those involved in an election other than the candidate.