After reading this section, you should be able to answer the following questions:
- What are interest groups?
- What are the main types of interest groups?
- What are the most important elements of interest groups?
- What incentives encourage interest group membership?
- How do interest groups recruit members?
- How do the media portray unions and union activity?
- How do interest groups influence elections?
Interest groups are intermediaries linking people to government, and lobbyists work for them. These groups make demands on government and try to influence public policies in their favor. Their most important difference from political parties is that they do not seek elective office. Interest groups can be single entities, join associations, and have individual members. The University of Texas at Austin is an educational institution. Its main purposes are teaching and research. Like other educational institutions, it is an interest group when it tries to influence government policies. These policies include government funding for facilities and student grants, loans, and work study. It may also try to influence laws and court decisions applying to research, admissions, gender equality in intercollegiate sports, and student records. It may ask members of Congress to earmark funds for some of its projects, thereby bypassing the normal competition with other universities for funds based on merit (Savage, 1999; Brainard & Hermes, 2008).