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Tufts OpenCourseware
Author: Kathleen Merrigan, Ph.D.

What role do interest groups play in policymaking?

Pluralists, like David Truman, argue that governments accommodate interest groups and the policy "marketplace." Interest-group Liberalists, like Theodore Lowi, acknowledge the power of interest groups, but warn of their corrosive influence in administrative discretion. To what extent should government harness the power of interest groups and reflect their wants and needs.

Quote of the Day

Bill Bradley served as U.S. Senator for New Jersey from 1979-1997 and ran for President in 2000. He is well-known for his career as a professional basketball player and businessman.

“But as politicians are steered too often by money, the citizens they are trying to represent are steered just as often by the clutter of interest groups and their professional staffers in Washington, making it all the more difficult for elected officials to see and follow the path of the true public interest. Each constituency has a multitude of identities, opinions, interests and connections to others. But interest groups try to take our voices and turn them into single-minded protests on behalf of our narrowest identity: Gun owner. Senior. Pro-Choice. Small businessperson. Environmentalist. Smoker….
Citizens will have to become at least as skeptical of interest groups that seek the right to speak for them in Washington as they already are of their elected officials. We have to create ways for citizens to interact not just at a distance with those whose ideas and interests are similar, but at a local level with those whose ideas and interests are a little different.”
Bill Bradley (D-NJ), Lessons and Legacies, Farewell Addresses from the Senate. 1997. Addison Wesley.

Discussion Questions

Are you a member of any interest groups? What issues are important to you in your local community and how would you make your opinions heard?


  • Theodore Lowi. Chaps. 1-3 & 5, The End of Liberalism: The Second Republic of the United States.W.W. Norton, 1979
  • Michael Piore. Chaps. 1-3 & 7, Beyond Individualism. Harvard University Press, 1995.
  • William Browne. Chap. 3-5, Groups, Interests, and U.S. Public Policy. Georgetown U Press, 1998.
  • Jeffrey M. Berry. "The Lobbying Law is More Charitable Than They Think", Sunday, November 30, 2003, Washington Post.


Bring a letter addressed to a federal agency on a proposed rule of your choosing to share and mail together. Please see the Assignments folder for this course. It includes the assignment along with student examples.


  • Environmental Grantmakers Association -
    • Learn about environmental policy issues and grantmaking.
    • Find resources and publications that aim to promote, diversify, and expand environmental philanthropy.
  • The United Nations and Civil Society -
    • A hub for UN public information on global issues, partnerships, events and official documents.
  • The World Bank and Civil Society -
    • Learn about policies, initiatives and the governing structure of the World Bank.
  • Global Trade Negotiations, Center for International Development at Harvard University -
    • Provides a centralized information resource on global trade negotiations.
  • • Duke University’s Non-governmental Organizations Research Guide -
    • Browse NGOs by issue, geography, affiliation.
    • Review NGO statistical data.