Interest Groups in Texas

Learning Objective

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Define the essential characteristics of interest groups and why they form


The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech, which we usually think of as the right of an individual to openly express a point of view – even a controversial one. But the amendment goes on to guarantee “…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The right to assemble and express a collective opinion is really a constitutional right to form interest groups, and to lobby on public policy issues. If the Texas chapter of the Sierra Club organizes a group to lobby state legislators on climate change issues, they’re exercising their constitutional right to express a collective opinion. If the Texas Association of Realtors organizes a group to lobby the legislature to repeal a real estate tax they consider unfair, what are they doing? They’re peaceably assembling, and they’re petitioning their state government for a redress of grievances. If the Texas Barber Association lobbies against a sales tax on haircuts, they’re doing the same thing.

What are Interest Groups?

While the term interest group is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the framers were aware that individuals would band together in an attempt to use government in their favor. In Federalist No. 10, James Madison warned of the dangers of “factions,” minorities who would organize around issues they felt strongly about, possibly to the detriment of the majority. But Madison believed limiting these factions was worse than facing the evils they might produce, because such limitations would violate individual freedoms. Instead, the natural way to control factions was to let them flourish and compete against each other. The sheer number of interests in the United States suggests that many have, indeed, flourished. They compete with similar groups for membership, and with opponents for access to decision-makers. Some people suggest there may be  too many interests in the United States. Others argue that some have gained a disproportionate amount of influence over public policy, whereas many others are underrepresented.

Madison’s definition of factions can apply to both interest groups and political parties. But unlike political parties, interest groups do not function primarily to elect candidates under a certain party label or to directly control the operation of the government. Political parties in the United States are generally much broader coalitions that represent a significant proportion of citizens. In the American two-party system, the Democratic and Republican Parties spread relatively wide nets to try to encompass large segments of the population. In contrast, while interest groups may support or oppose political candidates, their goals are usually more issue-specific and narrowly focused on areas like taxes, the environment, and  gun rights or gun control, or their membership is limited to specific professions. They may represent interests ranging from well-known organizations, such as the Sierra Club, IBM, or the American Lung Association, to obscure ones, such as  the Texas-based Romance Writers of America. Thus, with some notable exceptions, specific interest groups have much more limited membership than do political parties.

Definitions abound when it comes to interest groups, which are sometimes referred to as special interests, interest organizations, pressure groups, or just interests. Most definitions specify that interest group indicates any formal association of individuals or organizations that attempt to influence government decision-making and/or the making of public policy. Often, this influence is exercised by a lobbyist or a lobbying firm.

Formally, a lobbyist is someone who represents the interest organization before government, is usually compensated for doing so, and is required to register with the government in which he or she lobbies, whether state or federal. The lobbyist’s primary goal is usually to influence policy. Most interest organizations engage in lobbying activity to achieve their objectives. As you might expect, the interest hires a lobbyist, employs one internally, or has a member volunteer to lobby on its behalf.


Interest Groups: Crash Course Government and Politics #42

Why Do We Form Interest Groups?

Political scientists point to three major reasons people form interest groups. The first involves material benefits. It’s fair to say Americans probably join the nation’s largest interest group – AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) – not to stand up for the rights of retired people, but in order to get discounts on insurance, as well as other products and services. For most of its history, the National Rifle Association was more about safety classes and insurance discounts that political advocacy.

The second reason involves solidary benefits. There’s something very special about getting together with other people who do what you do for a living.

Whether you’re a police ocer, and apartment manager or a dentist, colleagues can learn from each other, discuss best practices and share stories only another person in their business can truly appreciate.

Finally, there are purposive benefits – the satisfaction of working together with others toward a common cause. Members of groups like the Sierra Club or Mothers Against Drunk Drivers are motivated primarily by the satisfaction of working with other like-minded people to support a specific cause.

Interest Group Formation: Crash Course Government and Politics #43


Licensing and Attribution


Interest Groups in Texas. Authored by: Andrew Teas. License: CC BY: Attribution