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interest group

An organization of people with shared policy goals entering the policy process at several points to try to achieve those goals. They pursue their goals in many arenas.

pluralist theory

A theory of government and politics emphasizing that politics is mainly a competition among groups, each one pressing for its own preferred policies.

elite theory

A theory of government and politics contending that societies are divided along class lines and that an upper-class elite will rule, regardless of the formal niceties of governmental organization.

iron triangles

A network of groups within the American political system that exercise a great deal of control over specific policy areas. They are composed of interest group leaders interested in a particular policy, the government agency in charge of administering that policy, and the members of congressional committees and subcommittees handling that policy.

potential group

All the people who might be interest group members because they share some common interest. It is almost always larger than an actual group.

actual group

That part of the potential group consisting of members who actually join.

collective good

Something of value (money, a tax write-off, prestige, clean air, and so on) that cannot be withheld from a group member.

free-rider problem

The problem faced by unions and other groups when people do not join because they can benefit from the group's activities without officially joining. The bigger the group, the more serious the problem.

selective benefits

Goods (such as information publications, travel discounts, and group insurance rates) that a group can restrict to those who pay their annual dues.

single-issue groups

Groups that have a narrow interest, tend to dislike compromise, and often draw membership from people new to politics. These features distinguish them from traditional interest groups.


According to Lester Milbrath, a "communication, by someone other than a citizen acting on his own behalf, directed to a governmental decision maker with the hope of influencing his decision."


Direct group involvement in the electoral process. Groups can help fund campaigns, provide testimony, and get members to work for candidates, and some form political action committees (PACs).

political action committees (PACs)

Political funding vehicles created by the 1974 campaign finance reforms. A corporation, union, or some other interest group can create one of these and register it with the Federal Election Commission, which will meticulously monitor its expenditures.

amicus curiae briefs

Legal briefs submitted by a "friend of the court" for the purpose of raising additional points of view and presenting information not contained in the briefs of the formal parties. These attempt to influence a court's decision.

class action suits

Lawsuits permitting a small number of people to sue on behalf of all other people similarly situated.

right-to-work law

A state law forbidding requirements that workers must join a union to hold their jobs. It was specifically permitted in states by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947

public interest lobbies

According to Jeffery Berry, organizations that seek "a collective good, the achievement of which will not selectively and materially benefit the membership of activities of the organization."

Solidary benefits

selective benefits of group membership that emphasize friendship, networking, and consciousness-raising

Material benefits

special goods, services, or money provided to members of groups to entice others to join

Purposive benefits

benefit that encourages group participation by connecting individuals to an organization's political purpose

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