Basic Interests: The Importance of Groups in Politics and in Political Science

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Princeton University Press, 1998 M03 23 - 248 pages

A generation ago, scholars saw interest groups as the single most important element in the American political system. Today, political scientists are more likely to see groups as a marginal influence compared to institutions such as Congress, the presidency, and the judiciary. Frank Baumgartner and Beth Leech show that scholars have veered from one extreme to another not because of changes in the political system, but because of changes in political science. They review hundreds of books and articles about interest groups from the 1940s to today; examine the methodological and conceptual problems that have beset the field; and suggest research strategies to return interest-group studies to a position of greater relevance.

The authors begin by explaining how the group approach to politics became dominant forty years ago in reaction to the constitutional-legal approach that preceded it. They show how it fell into decline in the 1970s as scholars ignored the impact of groups on government to focus on more quantifiable but narrower subjects, such as collective-action dilemmas and the dynamics of recruitment. As a result, despite intense research activity, we still know very little about how groups influence day-to-day governing. Baumgartner and Leech argue that scholars need to develop a more coherent set of research questions, focus on large-scale studies, and pay more attention to the context of group behavior. Their book will give new impetus and direction to a field that has been in the academic wilderness too long.

From inside the book


Chapter One Progress and Confusion
Chapter Two Barriers to Accumulation
Chapter Three The Rise and Decline of the Group Approach
Chapter Four Collective Action and the New Literature on Interest Groups
Chapter Five Bias and Diversity in the InterestGroup System
Chapter Six The Dynamics of Bias
Chapter Seven Building a Literature on Lobbying One Case Study at a Time
Chapter Eight Surveys of InterestGroup Activities
Chapter Nine Learning from Experience
Appendix Articles on Interest Groups Published in the American Political Science Review 19501995

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About the author (1998)

Frank R. Baumgartner is Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University. He is the author of Conflict and Rhetoric in French Policymaking and coauthor (with Bryan Jones) of Agendas and Instability in American Politics. Beth L. Leech is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Texas A&M.

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