Topics on this page: Proliferation of Interest Groups -- Decline of Parties -- Pluralization in Germany
There are several recent phenomena in the examined countries that should be compared.
Proliferation of Interest Groups
When examining the development of interest group politics, one finds that since the 1940s, the United States has witnessed considerable growth in the number of interest groups, a growth which accelerated in the 1960s. An increased number of citizens took up membership, particularly in single issue groups. Moreover, changes in campaign finance laws were responsible for the growing number of PAC's and their rising influence in electoral developments. Also, large institutions, such as universities, churches, government agencies, foundations and thinktanks formed their own organizations to represent them politically. Another phenomena that was visible during the 1960s and 1970s, was the growing number of interest groups that established their headquarters in Washington DC under the phrase hunt "where the ducks are" (Cigler, 11). By 1990, Washington had a diverse lobbying community, ranging from lawyers and lobbyists to a number of public relations firms.
Several factors determine interest group proliferation in the United States. First, we are faced with a country that is heterogeneous in many respects: there are differences in its geography, climate, economic potential, culture, ethnicity and religion. That diversity produces political, socioeconomic and cultural cleavages which lead to the emergence of various movements and associations, each with their own objectives.
Constitutional principles such as freedom of speech, the right to petition the government and the separation of powers among the judiciary, legislative and executive branches are also important factors in interest group facilitation.
Federalism is another essential aspect for group proliferation, as it allows interest groups to influence policy on the federal, state and local level. For example, the US Chamber of Commerce, a federal organization, has several subnational affiliates operating independently from the main body and interacting with the state and local governments.
Group proliferation in the US also results from emotional and ideological factors. American values, such as individualism and the 'pursuit of happiness' motivates Americans to form or join groups with the purpose of bringing their interests and desires to the attention of the government (Cigler, 6).
Decline of Political Parties
The decline of political parties was an important development in American politics. The function of a political party in a democracy is to structure and facilitate mass participation (Cigler, 17). The party reduces various demands and concerns of citizens into a smaller, more manageable number of broad issues from which the party forms its agenda. In the United States, the party system was shaped in a relatively rigid structure until the 1940s. Traditionally, the Democratic Party represented the less affluent, the ethnically and socially disadvantaged segment of the population and generally supported welfare and social programs. The Republican Party found its supporters in the wealthier segment of society, businessmen, farmers, rural and suburban inhabitants. By the late 1940s, the structure destabilized and the parties ceased to reflect the demands of the citizens.
There were several reasons for these changes. First, the increased number of interest groups made it difficult for parties to encompass the growing number of issues. Groups became less willing to compromise on issues and thus turned to individual Congressmen.
The emergence of an affluent middle class was a major factor for changes in the political landscape. The rising income in large segments of society caused a rise of expectations, which is referred to as the 'mentality of demand' (Cigler, 17). After a sufficient standard of living was achieved, people sought more political participation than previously. As the party system could no longer accommodate the "demand mentality," political power shifted from the parties to interest groups, which sent their lobbyists to the legislators and filled the power vacuum.
Post-industrial developments contributed to the transformation of the political system. The emergence of a highly educated electorate and technological advances in media and communications allowed for easier access of information.
A formidable challenge facing parties today is the shift of citizens' attention to emotionally volatile issues such as as abortion and capital punishment. These issues cause deep divisions that parties have difficulty accommodating.
Pluralization in Germany
Although there is a pronounced network of organized interests in Germany, most influence in the political system is reserved for large associations with relatively high positions within the political power structure. In particularly, trade unions, employers' associations, agricultural organizations, and churches have considerable access to government. Germany, with its 'privileged' interest groups that are integrated into the political institutional apparatus, has experienced in recent years similar developments that deserve explanation.
Over the past two decades however, non-traditional groups such as citizens' initiatives, women's organizations, and peace and nature conservation movements have articulated interests not previously considered by the traditional organizations, resulting in the institutionalization of new interest groups.
These new social movements and the tendency to organize in groups outside the traditional power structure can be regarded as protests against the traditional, centralized forms of interest representation in Germany. Among young people one can observe a decrease of interest and involvement in traditional organizations including parties and unions. Instead, they seek involvement in issue-oriented groups.
This process can be compared to the decline of parties in the United States since the 1940s. A rise in pluralization of interests could serve as an explanation for the situation in Germany, but significantly this trend did not begin until the 1980s. A better explanation draws on institutional conditions in Germany. Over the past years, there has been growing disapproval of rigidity and stasis in the governmental process. This stagnation of the governmental process -- similar to that which has been criticized in the United States -- is caused, in Germany by an excess of corporatism. The limitation of influence to an oligopoly of interest associations causes a system of patronage and defending of achieved benefits, hence impeding dynamic development.
-- Defining Terms -- Types
of Interest Groups -- Techniques --
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