Interest Groups • Interest Groups at Work
Objective: Discuss the role of interest groups in politics and role-play how interest groups might attempt to influence a particular policy.
- In what specific ways do interest groups help individual American citizens better express their policy priorities?
Notes on Implementation:
- Encourage students to learn more about interest groups by researching one of the groups mentioned in the Resources section. Ask students to briefly report on the mission of the interest group and how it seeks to influence policy.
- Extend the activity by conducting a mock school board meeting in which students argue their position before the school board. Have the students who play the role of school board members give feedback about which parts of the argument were most persuasive.
- Provide a graphic organizer to help students organize their ideas for the interest group they have chosen. Include boxes for the following information: name of interest group; position on the issue; Reason #1; Reason #2; Reason #3.
Student Activity: Students can access the below activity in the Interest Groups Topic Center within the American Government database.
Interest groups are organized groups of people who share common goals, like increasing the political power of senior citizens or stopping an unpopular bill. They actively try to influence the opinions of legislators and policy makers by approaching them on Capitol Hill, by wielding public opinion, and through electioneering.
In this activity, you will learn about various types of interest groups and how they influence policy. Then, you will join an interest group in a mock policy debate.
- Interest Groups
- What are Interest Groups?
- Types of Interest Groups
- What Interest Groups Seek to Do
- How Interest Groups Reach Their Goals
- For almost any cause that Americans find important, there is an interest group that tries to make its voice heard in politics. Begin by thinking about interest groups you know of. At first you might think you don't know of any interest groups, but you may have heard of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the Humane Society, the U.S. Chamber of Congress, or the National Rifle Association (NRA). These are all interest groups. Review the resources above to learn more about the role interest groups play in our political system.
- Choose a policy related to your school that you think should be changed. The following are just a few ideas:
- your school's start time
- grading or homework policies
- vending machine selection
- lunch options (e.g., too healthy or not healthy enough?)
- dress code
- Outline how you would change the school's policy. Then organize an interest group with:
- a descriptive name
- a clear stated goal for what they want to change
- Write a clear plan of action. What is your goal, in one sentence or less? How will you attract others to your interest group? Could you get teachers to support you? Which ones? How? Who makes the rules concerning your issue? How might you be able to persuade this person or committee? What arguments are likely to arise from people who have a different or opposing opinion to your proposal? How will you respond to these arguments? Respond to the answers to these questions in the form of an action plan.
- Discuss what you learned from participating in this activity. Do you think the voice of students or parents working together as an interest group would be more effective than as individuals? Why or why not? Why is having a diverse group of many people generally more effective than speaking to this person or committee on your own? Are there some groups that would have more influence over this decision than others? Would they have too much influence? Explain your response.
- Interest groups can be both an effective citizen tool for expression and, if too powerful, a threat to democracy.
Possible Answers for Activity:
Answers will vary depending on the issue chosen, but the written action plan and follow-up discussion should demonstrate an understanding of the function of interest groups. Students should demonstrate awareness of the fact that interest groups form around a specific issue or policy and generally attract others who have the same opinion. Effective interest groups recognize the importance of addressing the concerns of those on the other side of the opinion.
"Interest Groups at Work." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com. Accessed 23 Aug. 2019.