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16 October 2014
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Reference - The people
Political participation can also take the form of interest group activity. Interest groups are found in all nations and, in a country the size of the USA , they are a significant source of participation in the democratic process. They are a key way of influencing government at both state and federal level.

The First Amendment of the Constitution protects the rights of those minorities who wish to organise to promote their own interests. The rising number, and effectiveness, of interest groups in the USA after the Second World War was reflected in the growth of lobbying in Washington . Lobbyists skilfully present particular interests to the elected representatives in Congress with the aim of influencing government policy.

Some examples of interest group activity include:

Immigration and DREAM Act
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), among other things, supports easier immigration and employment of agricultural workers. This is an interest group primarily operated by professional lobbyists.

Americans for Immigration Control (AIC) calls itself the largest grassroots anti-immigration activist organization. AIC opposes all amnesties and guest worker legislation, and believes illegals in the USA should be deported. It also calls for the government to:

  • reduce legal immigration levels to traditional levels of no more than 250,000 self-supporting immigrants per year
  • end all federal public assistance to non-citizens except emergency health care
  • repeal federal bilingual education programs and bilingual balloting
  • cut foreign aid and deployment of US troops abroad to fund immigration enforcement
National Council of la Raza is the largest Hispanic advocacy project in the USA and campaigns to increase opportunities for and reduce discrimination against Hispanic people.

The Minutemen are a group of volunteer civilians who actively patrol the US - Mexico Border. They state that they aim to assist the US Border Patrol, but the Border Patrol has voiced concerns about untrained civilians patrolling the border. Critics have labelled the Minutemen racist, although they insist that their members operate within the law. They must not, for example, attempt to apprehend a suspected illegal immigrant themselves but must contact Border Patrol. They maintain that their primary concern is the security of America .

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) works to guarantee individual rights and freedoms. These include the rights of freedom of speech, association and assembly as guaranteed by the First Amendment, the right to privacy and the right to equal protection under the law, regardless of gender, race, religion or national origin. In Arizona , the ACLU is monitoring the activities of the Minutemen to ensure they do not operate unlawfully.

The Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (COMD) is an anti military organisation. The organisation is opposed to the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act would allow immigrants who perform military service to obtain a green card. This might be the only viable option for many young Hispanics. COMD argues, therefore, that the Act encourages militarism.

The Centre for Immigration Studies is a think tank founded in 1985. It describes itself as pro-immigrant but in favour of low immigration. It claims to be independent and non partisan but was originally founded as a research organisation to support an anti immigration organisation known as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Reports published by the Centre tend to support an anti immigration stance.

The Essential Worker Immigration Coalition (EWIC) is a coalition of businesses and other organisations which are concerned about the shortage of essential workers. They believe immigration reform is necessary for the future of the American economy and aim to work with government to achieve this aim.

Gun Law
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence presses for new laws to reduce the harm caused by firearms. It has combined with the Million Mom March group to improve its connections to gun control supporters. Although their influence on public opinion is rising, they find it difficult to persuade legislators to promote their aims and ideas.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) campaigns to prevent any additional restrictions on the right to gun ownership. It has a membership of more than three million and a huge budget, used to influence and support those politicians who support its aims. It has been highly effective in blocking attempts to enact gun control measures. Although the NRA is supported by a minority of citizens, it is highly organised and effective. Other gun rights groups, like the NRA , often give financial support to candidates sympathetic to their aims. Its members have publicly praised the US government for passing the Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) was founded in the early 1970s and campaigns for laws to reduce firearm death and injury. CSGV comprises forty five national organizations including the United Federation of Teachers and the American Psychiatric Association .

The purpose of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project is to educate Hispanics in the Southwest about voter registration and participation in the political process. SVREP's motto is "Su Voto Es Su Voz" which translates as “Your Vote is Your Voice”.

Rock the Vote has the same broad aims as the SVREP , but their target group is young voters. They attempt to encourage young people to register and to vote, by running high profile campaigns, often featuring musicians or actors. They target events such as concerts and recruit young people to persuade others at these events to register to vote.

Other High Profile Organisations

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is, after the Roman Catholic Church, America 's largest organisation. In 2001, it had 35 million members. A fifth of all voters belong to the group, nearly half of all Americans aged 50 or over. This group has a great deal of influence in Washington and employs a huge staff to ensure legislators are aware of its opinions on a range of matters of concern to its varied membership.

‘Special interests' groups are sometimes considered to wield a great deal of power and can be unpopular as a result. They are certainly pervasive in the USA but their influence on the political process is counterbalanced by the broad requirements of getting elected. These often prevent congressional and presidential candidates being publicly sympathetic to any single area of policy if it is unpopular in his or her state, or in the national opinion polls which are so important in modern elections.


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