How do interest groups play a role in American government?

An interest group is an organization whose members share common concerns, and try to influence government policies that impact those concerns.

An interest group is an organization whose members share common concerns, and try to influence government policies that impact those concerns.

Elected officials frequently complain about the influence of "special interests" on American politics. The fact is, however, that interest groups work closely with members of Congress and the administration to draft legislation and policy initiatives, provide information both to government and the public on a broad range of topical issues, and contribute significantly to political campaigns. The number of interest groups has grown dramatically in recent years, and it is difficult to think of a segment of American society that is not represented by one.

Interest groups can be classified as to the groups that they represent. Examples of economic interest groups include the following:

  • Big business (National Association of Manufacturers)
  • Big unions (AFL-CIO)
  • Trade associations concerned with a particular industry or segment of the economy (American Petroleum Institute)
  • Organizations of professionals (American Medical Association)

The goal of these groups is to protect the economic well-being of their clients or members. The AMA, for instance, long opposed Medicare and the development of health maintenance organizations (HMOs) as "socialized medicine" in favor of traditional fee-for-service.