Does ‘hyperpluralism’ have a negative or positive influence upon democracy in the US ?

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In order to answer the question posed it would be first appropriate to define the term hyperpluralism. “Hyperpluralism is the theory of government and politics contending that groups are so strong that government is weakened, an extreme, exaggerated, and perverse form of pluralism”[1] Therefore hyperpluralism states that due to a large number of groups it becomes difficult for government to effectively and efficiently govern as excess compromise and time is required. However the source illustrates a negative view on its influence upon democracy. Other definitions provide a greater positive influence “hyperpluralism consists of a network of groups which exercise a great deal of control over specific policy areas”.[2] Therefore suggesting that groups are able to amend policy which is unpopular or ineffective and therefore express a positive influence on a government’s democracy.

As the sources illustrate hyperpluralism is based upon the influence of groups otherwise known as interest groups which is “any group that is based on one or more shared attitudes and makes certain claims upon other groups or organizational in the society”.[3] The influence in which interest groups have upon government is described through the interest group theory; where similar to hyperpluralism it suggests that either as a positive or a negative manipulate interest groups [4]

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Interest groups have had an increasing presence in the US “57% of Americans in comparison to 47% in Great Britain and 29% in Italy hold a membership in a voluntary association”[5] therefore it is an issue that has a large impact on American politics and government. There are a number of positive and negative attributes associated with interest groups. One of the key positive impacts of interest groups is that it allows for public representation known as the pluralist view. The voice of a group generates greater influence and therefore can have a greater say in public policy and legislation than a single voter. For example large groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) which consists of 35.7 million members [6] have great influence on social security policy for the elderly from an economic and health prospective.

Recently the AARP supported bills to be passed in order to subsidise and make more affordable healthcare for the elderly.[19] But also implemented additional legislation to the bill in order to gain greater benefit to its members. The AARP also highlighted other issues that were not on the bill highlighting an interest groups power to raise issues that are not covered by the government and educate legislatures. This therefore expresses the positive value of interest groups. Another benefit relating to hyperpluralism is the breakup of monopoly held by political parties. Interest groups actively seek to influence and alter party legislation in order to benefit a particular active area. This therefore stops political parties monopolising policy and governmental decisions.

Another factor is that it generates civic activism. “The emergence of public interest groups has done more than any other factor to stimulate political action and attention in America”[15] This has clearly been shown through the recent events in America especially the “tea party” movement. The movement focuses on the pluralist ideal representing true American voter’s beliefs over the country’s current policy issues, including the economy, healthcare and social reform.

The movement has allowed for Americans to express their opinion which is shared with other voters creating an interest group which has great influence over American political parties legislative and policy making. More famously the civil rights movement during 1955-1968[8] consisted of a number of interest groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) gained great support and civic activism during the fights for civil and social equality. This created mass media attention and as a result there was a “250,000-strong crowd of civil rights protesters at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.”[9]

However interests groups have been accused of a number of negative impacts. One of which is that too any groups can cloud the judgments of political parties “200,000 different organisations exist on the state and local levels of American politics”[10] With great numbers of groups each emphasising an own particular interest in an area of legislative it can create a excessive compromise which may dissolve the key ideas of the original policy and therefore may not act strongly or effectively enough. For example if we look at the number of health and medical interest groups in America these include most prominently the American Medical Association (AMA), American Hospital Association (AHA) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PRMA). The three mentioned all lobbied the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 along with 1051 other lobbying organisations employed by interest groups. As a result this causes a clouding of the overall policy making and delays in passing through congress.

Demosclerosis is often a word associated with interest groups and is defined as a “government’s progressive loss of the ability to adapt”[11]. Marc Olson a political analysis confers with the effect of demosclerosis on American politics arguing in a stable, democratic society, pressure groups inevitably form to persuade government to redistribute resources their way. Taken one at a time, these benefits have practically no effect on society as a whole, so no countervailing group arises to stop the waste. But, taken as a whole, group demands gradually sap the effectiveness and flexibility of government to the point where no program can be cut and no subsidy eliminated without arousing opposition from some other group.

The theory of Demosclerosis put forward by Olson argues the fact that interest groups can affect the governing power of political parties. It would therefore be appropriate to understand how pressure groups are able to cause this dis-function within government. Lobbying is a key tactic used by interest groups defined as a “the communication of data by opinion by someone other than a citizen acting on his own behalf to a governmental decision maker in an effort to influence a specific decision”[12] “Direct lobbying is the strategy proffered by the vast majority of lobbyists” This method involves lobbyists (a staff member, elected leader or hired professional who attempts to carry out the oganisations policy preferences)[13]

Direct lobbying “bring the official representatives of the organisation straight to the government officials”[14]. This nature of lobbying has formed many organisations and companies dedicated to professional lobbying due to the large amount of money involved. Lobbying spending reached $2.1 billion in comparison to $1.2 billion in 2000[16]. Many interest groups have utilized these companies in order to pass through legislation. An example of this can be seen through the pharmaceutical interest groups in America.

A number of medical organisations lobbied Washington on the proposed introduction of legislation which “avoided media restrictions related to their drug advertisements in the U.S”[17]. This affected large pharmaceutical interest groups such as Bristol-Myres and Pfizer. Other cases of lobbyist power among Washington include policy making involving large areas such as oil services. Ogilvy government relations (one of the largest lobbying organisations) fought for Chevron Oil Company when a Chinese oil company attempted to buy Union Oil Company of California, Ogilvy successfully defeated original legislation and takeover criteria, allowing its client Chevron to under-bid and win the battle for the takeover.[17]

During the first quarter of 2008, telecommunications providers, including AT&T, Verizon and Comcast spent approximately $13 million on lobbying fees, seeking protection from surveillance lawsuits tied to illegal wire-tapping implemented after the September 11, 2001 attacks. After affective lobbying, significant amendments were made through congress in which greatly benefited the named telecommunications businesses in this area. [18]

Wealth and power have been contentious issues in American politics and this is also the case for the impact of wealth within interest groups and the power generated purely by wealth of an interest group and not by its political interests. It is clearly apparent that wealth is a key feature and money spent on lobbyists is being used to influence and effect bill and legislation rulings. The American Petroleum institute (API) and other lobbyists are reportedly “ready to spend tens of millions of dollars in order to promote or kill a bill”[20]. Larger organisations with greater membership numbers and therefore, greater revenues and spending power are suggested to have far greater influence on political decision making. “the political weapon of choice is money. It looms over the political landscape like the Matterhorn. It is the principal common denominator between the old lobbying game and the new”[21]

We can use the example of one of the biggest interest groups in America the AARP as discussed previously. Due to the large membership numbers of the group spending power is far greater than many other interest groups. This can have a profound impact on Washington and decision making within American politics. The AARP spent “$21,010,000” on lobbying alone. With large spending power the AARP are able to debate and alter large political decisions related to their specific interests. An example of which can be “The pharmaceutical industry’s promise to offer Medicare beneficiaries trapped in a coverage gap a 50% discounts on expensive drugs is a lobbying victory for another major player in health care: the seniors group AARP.”[22] Smaller interest groups with a much smaller spending budget are unable to affect these policies and legislation with as much dominance as the AARP. Therefore reiterating the issue that wealth could be suggested to be the key to political power and reform in American politics.

Illegal bribery can also occur due to the large sums of money and political gains that can be acquired through lobbying by interest groups. Jack Abramhoff a republican lobbyist “pleaded guilty in a Washington court to charges of trading expensive gifts, meals and sports trips in exchange for political favours.”[23] It can be argued that lobbyists should not have such great access to political figures and key decision makers. However this is hard to control due to legal forms of indirect bribery such as free trips to resorts. “When the National association of Broadcasters held its annual meeting six federal commissioners and sixteen senior aides were in attendance at the expense of the association”[25]. Thus illustrating although complying within the law, interest groups are suggested by many to influence senior officials by this form of indirect bribery. However “bribery is a rarity today and generally it returns to back fire”[24] there have been a number of cases where this still occurs within American politics.

One of the key negative impacts of interest groups is the influence they can generate through voting power. Due to large membership numbers of some groups in America such as the National rifle association (NRA) and the AARP senators and congressmen can be highly affected. If officeholders refuse to support positions held by groups, some groups may threaten officeholders politically, known as “electoral retaliation”. Some lobbies have been perceived as capable of carrying out revenge at the polls.

The NRA for example is credited with the votes that resulted in the defeats of four US senators in 1970 who voted “wrong” on gun control legislation. The Anti abortion movement in Iowa is generally credited for the defeat of liberal senator Dick Clark in 1978. More recently the NRA enforced “electoral retaliation” during the Clinton administration. Clinton introduced the Brady bill, a law in which required that background checks be conducted on individuals before a firearm could be purchased from a federally licensed dealer.[26] This came under strong opposition from the NRA quoting that it went against the second amendment of the right to bear arms.

This resulted in a similar act to the 1970 “electoral retaliation” where senators were voted against who did not share the views of the group. In this case over 15 congressmen lost their seats, in which many believe was due to the fact that they shared conflicting views with the NRA and backed the Brady bill. Clinton recently reinforced the power that he believes the NRA and other political interest groups have on American politics “They were mad about this whole weapons ban and the Brady Bill, and they probably took 15 of our House members out. That was their number, they said between 15 and 20, and I’d say, at least on the low side, they were right.”[27]

To conclude there are many arguments for and against hyperpluralism and its effect on American political democracy. Positively it provides a greater sense of civic activism, greater general public opinion and educating legislatures and office officials. However these factors in my opinion are far outweighed by the negative impact that hyperpluralism has on democracy and its effort to govern effectively. The American political system has changed, perhaps even developed to the point that “interest groups join the political game and are no longer content with themselves cheering on favoured players from the sideline”. Due to “electoral retaliation”, and the increasing overcrowding of opinions represented by interest groups in policy making, this has made governing a harder and more challenging process. Overall the threat to democracy is predicated on the belief that interest groups are in pursuit of their own selfish objectives and have therefore lost sight of the public good and strong democratic governance. Therefore as a result hyperpluralism denies governments to act at the best of their abilities.

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Does ‘hyperpluralism’ have a negative or positive influence upon democracy in the US ?. (2017, Jul 22). Retrieved from

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