In the U.S., when a policy issue is more relevant in public opinion, does the influence of interest groups wane?

I ask because, on one hand, one can think that when a issue is discussed more in public opinion, interest groups have less influence, but, on the other hand, it is also true that they can ride the public opinion in order to reach their goals.

  • I hope you have a large sample size to make a determination. It is also unclear what you are interested in. You talk about "interest groups" influence either decreasing or the interest group deciding to change thief opinion and follow major public opinion. So, what exactly are you measuring? Interest Groups changing their position or not based on public opinion polls? Or, Interest Groups reducing public advertising on a postition that is unpopular? Or, legislation that goes in an Interest Groups side, when obviously against major public opinion? Lots of possibilities here.
    – user1873
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 14:44
  • I imagine it heavily depends on the interest group. Some want to remain silent behind the scenes and likely don't want public attention. Others purposefully craft talking points to encourage public attention.
    – user1530
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 15:51

1 Answer 1


In The Power Game, pulitizer prize winning journalist Hedrick Smith promulgated what he called "the iron law of politics." In a nutshell, he says if you have some control and desire influence, narrow the circle of those who give input on an issue. If you have no power, do the opposite - expand the circle.

(Here, for example, is a link showing the various chapters, one of which is called "The Power Loop: Narrow Access vs. Widening the Circle")

Opening the circle, he explains, increases the number of actors and decreases the portion of power that any one actor can exercise without overruling the "consensus." Anecdotally, lobbyists use this rule in practice. Tax minutia that may deliver a big break to particular entity is rarely trumpeted - unless if the tax break is running against a strong headwind. Then the "oh look at who is stopping American Business (TM)" arguments come out. Conversely, if someone wants to scupper the whole thing, it becomes a "loophole for the rich."

Expanding the metaphor to "interest groups" and "public opinion at large" is easy, because lobbyists are, in fact, just representatives of an interest. The difference between an "Interest Group" and an interest is nothing but scale. Nobody is going to sneak through an massive anti-abortion or gay marriage bill, for example, but the strategy of going state by state in each instance proved far more effective than national attempts in either event.

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