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Texas Politics - Interest Groups
Interest group diversity Interest group diversity
collective action
5.    What Interest Groups Do

Like political parties, interest groups perform critical functions in a democratic system. In the process of attempting to influence politics and policy, interest groups

The following sections explore each of these functions in greater detail.

5.1    Organizing Individuals With Similar Interests

Just as parties organize the unorganized, interest groups provide the means for people with common interests to find each other, pool their resources, and engage in collective action.

This function of interest groups points to the important distinction between interests and interest groups. There are many identifiable interests in society that are not represented or organized by a group. Organizing a group that actively supports a specific interest requires a great deal of sustained work.

Not all groups or organizations act as interest groups in the political system. A group of people that literally share an interest do not necessarily constitute a politically active interest group, even if they are organized to participate in non-political activities. Yet most groups have the inherent capacity to quickly become a political interest group - for example, if the local bowling alley was scheduled to be torn down to build a highway, or if the state considered requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, bowlers or motorcyclists might organize for political action. (Motorcyclists have in fact mobilized support in Texas when such proposals have been raised in the Legislature. You can learn about the politically active Texas Motorcycle Rights Association at their website.) This chapter's Interest Group Diversity feature illustrates different combinations of organizational capacity and political interest that exist among organized groups in Texas.

The political activities of motorcyclists and other similar groups illustrates that individuals often come together for reasons other than politics, but subsequently engage in politics in response to changes in the political environment or as a natural extension of their core activities. Business associations may form simply as a way for people to build their network of contacts; but once formed, the membership may actively attempt to shape the state's tax policies or local development plans. Similarly, many Christian organizations originated as local congregations, but some have become quite active trying to change social and educational policies. Many motorists join the American Automobile Association (AAA) because of the organization's roadside assistance and other services. But one of this group's core activities is lobbying the federal and state governments for new and improved roads. Members may join for the services, and only subsequently become aware of related political issues and mobilize in efforts to affect policy decisions. Large corporations and labor unions are concerned chiefly with their economic interests. But they often engage in political activities intended to serve those interests.

Organized political interest groups take shape in different ways under a wide range of circumstances. As a general rule, it is easier to become an organized political interest group if you are already organized for some other purpose, though this condition does not prevent some groups from being born out of an interest in influencing politics.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 115
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