Why It Matters

Summarize the role of political parties and interest groups in the American political system

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Political parties and interest groups tend to have pretty bad reputations. Ask a friend what s/he thinks about either the Democrats or the Republicans, and you’ll probably get a negative response.

One widespread perception is that the parties are more concerned with enhancing their own power than advancing the public interest. A similar assumption is attached to the actions of “special interests.” Are those reputations deserved? It’s hard to say, “No, absolutely not” in response to that question, but it’s worth thinking about where our political system would be without parties and interest groups, both of which help organize and give shape to our politics.

As you work through the material in this section, it will be important to consider and take seriously some of the perennial complaints about parties and interests, but it will also be worth thinking about the ways in which both parties and interest groups help make our democracy run. In the end, you’ll probably find that some of the criticisms are valid but that both parties and interests wind up being pretty important to democracy in any case.

Let’s see whether you agree.