Political Parties And Interest Groups Essay, Research Paper
Political parties have become increasingly unpopular and have lost a great amount of power because of it. Interest groups are slowly picking up where parties left behind and are becoming more and more important not only in mobilizing voters, but also in lobbying government officials to aide their cause. In the early 1900’s, parties solely were in charge of the nomination process. A small group of party leaders, also known as a caucus, would choose who would run against the opposing party’s candidate and what office this individual would be seeking. It was a process that was closed off to everyone but the party leaders, and thus, could be tagged “undemocratic.” Years later, because of the ‘Party Machines’ of the north and the completely Democratic south, primaries replaced caucuses. Primaries allowed for members (not only leaders) of the party to vote for whom they wanted to nominate. Primaries also gave individuals the right to run for office under their party’s name. Thus, the party couldn’t prohibit anyone from running for public office as a member of that particular party if the individual was a registered member of that party.
The primary system of nominations has become so vast and popular that it has broken down into three different styles (each practiced by different states): open, closed, and blanket. Open primaries are just that; open for anyone to vote in any party. For example, a Democrat can vote in the Republican primary and vice versa. Closed primaries (which are the most widely used) are closed to people belonging to that party. Republicans can only vote in the Republican primaries and Democrats the same. Blanket primaries (practiced in only a few states) are relatively open in the sense that both Democrats and Republicans can vote for members of either party in different races; they don’t have to vote for candidates of only one party.
The primary system is set up so that adverse effects can help and/or hurt the candidates and nominee. For example, because during a primary most candidates are very similar as far as ideologies go, voters tend to vote according to the candidates’ personal characteristics. Looks, popularity, etc. will always help a candidate during the primaries. Primaries, though, can be hurtful to nominees because voters are less likely to vote for someone in the general election if they didn’t vote for them in the primary. After each party has chosen its candidate, they ratify their decision at their national conventions. “The principal significance of a national convention is that it is the kickoff of the general election campaign (Bibby 174).” The national convention also gives nominees the opportunity to set the theme for their upcoming election as well as giving parties a forum where they can draw up and sell their platform. But who exactly attends these functions? More so, who even votes? There are many factors to take into consideration when determining who actually goes out and votes and why it is that others don’t. The main factor is, without question, wealth. Those who are well off tend to vote more often because they can afford the luxury of taking off from work early, have transportation to take them to the polls, know the issues (are more educated), etc. Another advantage that the wealthy have is that they can mobilize ‘friendly’ voters, transport them to and from the polls, thus greatly helping their candidate/party.
Also, men tend to vote more than women, perhaps because women are usually the ones responsible for taking care of children, and don’t have the time to get to the polls. Members of churches or other social group also vote more often than those who don’t take part. But surely, the most consistent voters are and have always been those with preferred candidates and strong opinions on issues. These voters will not be deterred from their civic duty. Interest groups are also influential in getting citizens to vote, but only if they’re voting for a candidate that would help the interest group accomplish it’s set agenda. The main task of an interest group, though, is to lobby officials for their help (vote on positive legislation) by offering goods or services (money, campaign aid, votes) to the official in return. Interest groups lobby ‘friendly’ members of Congress as well as use the media to raise the salience of an issue. Interest groups’ lobbying tactics differ based upon the way that they recruit their members. Groups whose members joined because of economic reasons tend to be more pragmatic as far as lobbying goes. They don’t expect overnight changes, but prefer making small, lasting changes. Interest groups with an ideological membership do more confrontational lobbying. These groups want big changes and are not afraid of funding challengers in order to attain them. Although interest groups almost always lobby Congress solely, some do try to lobby the President, though they are rarely successful. Because of the office of the president’s popularity and the amount of media attention the President receives, interest groups generally like to lobby the President. The President can take a forgotten issue and make it salient. Unfortunately, because the office of the President is so important, it is very difficult to even get into the White House, much less have the opportunity to do any lobbying. Lobbying the judiciary is just as difficult. Because most judges are appointed, interest groups can offer very little to judges (legally, anyway) that would help the group reach it’s goal. What they can do is wait until a pertinent case comes along and they can serve as expert witnesses. They can also help during the litigation by offering lawyers, doing research, etc. But like their efforts in lobbying the executive branch, equally as difficult is it to lobby the judiciary. In conclusion, although members of political parties are still influential in determining who will represent them in a general election, it is interest groups who will decide what the interests of the nominees will be. If an interest group deems a nominee’s position as being unfavorable, they will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the nominee is not successful. After all, was the GOP successful in 1994 because of the party’s name, or was it because large groups like AARP and the NRA were behind them?