Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Political Campaigns

By Ronald J. Hrebenar; Matthew J. Burbank et al. | Go to book overview

Another important membership characteristic that may impact lobbying effectiveness is the degree of commitment held by the membership or activists concerning the organization's policy objectives. Groups with intensely committed members may have a great advantage in asking these members to participate in various types of grassroots actions and receiving a very enthusiastic response. The National Rifle Association, for example, has perhaps 30,000 to 100,000 of its 3.5 million members who are very committed to defending their "gun rights." The AFL-CIO, on the other hand, has millions of members who have joined for economic benefits and do not care at all about the group's political agenda. Many union members, in fact, may strongly oppose some parts of their union's political agenda.

Very committed or intense members may be too much of a good thing for some organizations. They are so committed to a goal or cause that they make it very difficult for the leadership of a group to engage in discussions, compromises, or "politics." Other intensively committed members may get frustrated easily with normal politics and lobbying and may engage in violence or other forms of extreme acts to further their cause. The ecoterrorists who burned an Aspen, Colorado, ski resort in April 1998 represented that type of challenge to more conservative environmentalist movements. The killing of a New York medical doctor who performed abortions and the hundreds of other acts of violence against abortion clinics or their workers also pose serious problems for those who are pro-life but also nonviolent.


Conclusion: Interest Groups, Political Parties, and Modern Campaigns

We have discussed groups and organizations as they have participated in campaign situations occurring in American politics. In terms of functions and roles, both political parties and interest groups provide communications between the American public and their governments. The communications, which may be from the top down or the bottom up, are the essential glue that makes democracy work. The third institution that facilitates citizen-government communications is the mass media itself. We have repeatedly touched on the role played by the media in party and interest group politics. Finally, parties and interest groups have frequently operated in the environment of political campaigns. We have defined campaigns very broadly in this book to include the traditional campaigns of parties, candidates, issues, lobbying, and initiative and referendum elections.

The decade of the 1990s has become the era of the perpetual campaign. Parties and candidates are engaged in the constant fund-raising, organizational staffing, and message testing that characterize modern campaigns. What has changed in the 1990s is the adoption of these strategies, tactics,

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