5.7 Groups Influencing Policy Outcomes

7 min readfebruary 11, 2023



AP US Government 👩🏾‍⚖️

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Political Actors & Influencing Public Policy

Single-issue groups

The purpose of single-issue groups, as the name suggests, is to focus time, energy, and resources on a narrowly-defined area of concern. The most powerful single-issue group in the United States is the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA consists of over 5 million members and focuses its efforts on limiting government policies that restrict gun rights. The NRA leverages its vast resources to recruit new members, purchase political ads, and fund lobbying efforts.
Another powerful single-issue group is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) AARP has the largest membership of any interest group in the United States, and since its members (50+ years and older) vote in higher numbers than any other subgroup, politicians tend to pay close attention to the group.  
📽️ Watch: AP Gov - Why is the NRA so Powerful?   

Ideological/social movements

Several post-World War II social movements led to significant public policy outcomes favoring groups that had historically been pushed to the side or ignored by the government. 

Civil Rights

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in the early twentieth century to pursue greater racial equality and social justice for black Americans. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s caused membership to increase exponentially and led to the creation of other like-minded groups, such as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The efforts of these groups culminated with the passage of two historic laws—the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965—both of which paved the way for better treatment of black Americans and set the stage for other marginalized groups to fight for greater equality in the coming decades.

Women's rights

The 19th Amendment granted voting rights to white women in 1920, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that women’s rights groups formed to work toward greater gender equality in the United States. An increasing number of women were elected to various public offices in the mid-20th century, which eventually led to the passage of public policies that increased the rights of women. Influenced by several recently-formed women’s rights groups—the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL)—Congress passed Title IX in 1972, resulting in greater gender equality in the funding of high school and college sports programs.
📽️Watch: AP Gov - Equality, sports, and Title IX 

Environmental rights

The 1960s was a decade of incredible growth for a variety of environmentally-conscious groups. The Sierra Club and Audubon Society experienced a massive increase in membership as more Americans grew more aware of the potential long-term effects of excessive chemical use in factories and farms, the unsustainable use of fossil fuels as energy sources, and other practices that threatened ecosystems. The increased awareness generated by these groups led to the passage of the Clean Water and Clean Air Act in 1963 and 1964, and the creation of a federal regulatory agency—the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—dedicated to better protecting the environment.  

Consumer rights

When the United States first industrialized, there were few laws and regulations in place to maintain safety for workers and the products they produced in factories. A greater awareness of consumer safety emerged in the 1960s, centered on the themes of product safety and information. Ralph Nader became the poster child for consumer safety with his attacks on the auto industry throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader brought greater attention to the auto industry’s reluctance to place more emphasis on safety features in the cars and trucks they manufactured. 
Another recent example of the government taking action to increase consumer safety is the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in 2011. Influenced by the severe economic downturn in 2008-2009, the purpose of the CFPB is to regulate debt and collection practices, oversee mortgage lending (the primary cause of the 2008-2009 crisis), and investigate complaints filed against banks and other financial institutions.

Protest movements

Protest movements in the US can have a significant impact on society and policy-making by raising public awareness, mobilizing citizens, and creating a sense of urgency and pressure on elected officials to take action on a particular issue. Protests can also bring together diverse communities, create a sense of solidarity, and give voice to marginalized and underrepresented groups. Protests can also lead to significant policy changes, as they put pressure on elected officials to address the concerns of the protesters and respond to their demands. Working together with civil rights movements, they have collectively contributed to successes in legislation and court rulings.

Scope of Influence

The various actors (interest groups, professional organizations, social movements, the military, and bureaucratic agencies) have different influences throughout various stages of policy-making. It is important to note that the influence of each of these actors can change depending on the specific policy issue and the political context.
Stage 1: Agenda-setting
Interest groups, such as corporations and trade associations, are well-organized and often have significant financial resources, which they can use to lobby elected officials and shape public opinion. This can give them significant influence in the agenda-setting stage.
Professional organizations, such as the American Medical Association or the National Education Association, can also influence the agenda-setting stage by representing the interests of specific professions and advocating for policies that benefit their members.
Social movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement or the Environmental Movement, can influence the agenda-setting stage by raising public awareness, mobilizing citizens, and putting pressure on elected officials to take action on a particular issue.
The military can also influence the agenda-setting stage by raising national security concerns and advocating for policies related to defense and foreign affairs.
Bureaucratic agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Defense, can also play a role in the agenda-setting stage by proposing new policies or regulations, conducting research, and providing expertise to elected officials.
Step 2: Policy formation and budgeting
Apart from the approaches to exert pressure over policy-makers, various actors can influence policy formation through budgeting. They all can advocate for budgeting for the causes that interest them, but some power is usually vested in bureaucratic agencies as they can propose budgets and make recommendations for the allocation of resources.
Step 3: Adoption
This is the stage where a particular policy officially becomes law. This stage typically involves a vote by a legislative body, such as the U.S. Congress or a state legislature.
Groups outside of governmental institutions can influence the voting stage by advocating for candidates or political positions that align with their specific issue areas and goals. Conversely, bureaucratic agencies are not typically involved in directly influencing the voting stage, as they are non-partisan and neutral in political matters.
Step 4: Implementation
Interest groups, professional organizations, and social movements can again utilize their political pressure approaches at this stage. The military has a strong influence on national security policies and the allocation of resources related to defense. Bureaucratic agencies, particularly those directly responsible for implementing policies (e.g., the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, etc.), have significant influence through their control over the administrative processes and enforcement of policies.
Step 5: Evaluation
Interest groups and bureaucratic agencies have greater influence because they can play a key role by collecting and analyzing data on the implementation and outcomes of policies. This information can then be used to inform future policy decisions and improve the effectiveness of policy implementation.

Policy Shifts

During elections, parties present their policies and platforms to the voters, and the voters choose the party and candidate they believe will best serve their interests. When a party wins an election and forms the government, it is responsible for implementing the policies it promised during the campaign.
Policy shifts or initiatives, such as changes to tax laws, social welfare programs, or foreign policies, can have a significant impact on voters and their opinions of the political parties. These changes can sometimes lead to political realignments, where voting constituencies switch their support from one party to another, based on how well the parties address their concerns and priorities. Political realignments can result in long-term changes in the political landscape and can shape the direction of a country for years to come.
Over the years, there have been several examples of this principle:
In the 1930s, the Great Depression led to significant policy shifts under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, which aimed to provide relief, recovery, and reform. This resulted in a realignment of voting constituencies, with many working-class and urban voters switching their support from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, known as the New Deal Realignment.
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan's conservative policies, including tax cuts, deregulation, and a strong national defense, resulted in a realignment of voting constituencies, with many traditionally Democratic voters switching their support to the Republican Party.

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