Friend or Faction? Consequences of Interest Groups in the United States

Interest groups are important players in the American political system. They provide a venue in which interests and concerns of the people are conveyed to the government. Interest groups possess very specialized knowledge and represent many sides of an issue. Take the issue of gun control and the ongoing debate of allowing open carry handguns in Texas, for example. Groups, such as the National Rifle Authority (NRA), advocate for second amendment rights and support policies and representatives that aim to decrease regulations on gun control. On the other side, Moms Defend Action for Gun Safety in America and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence promote legislation and legislators that work to increase regulations on gun control.

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Obama’s Final Years

Presidents look very different at the end of their eight years in the White House than they do at the beginning of their first term. Historically, presidents are hard pressed to push their agenda in these years except in emergency circumstances or by pursuing legislation that has more support among the opposing party than the president’s own party. The president and his staff are exhausted after several years of toil. Because the president is on his way out, there is little incentive for Congress to work with the president especially if it is controlled by the opposing political party.

A Republican majority, a lame-duck Democratic president, an upcoming presidential election, and an increasingly polarized political environment paint a bleak picture for Obama’s domestic agenda in the next two years. Despite these realities, presidents possess unique tools that can aid them in the end of their term. First, presidents have direct and implied Constitutional powers that help them succeed on the domestic front. While the president does not have the authority to make laws, he does enjoy some means of legislative control; the presidential veto being the primary one. In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama threatened to use this veto power if Congress passes laws that take away health insurance benefits, among others. While he cannot pass the legislation he wants, Obama is able to prevent legislation he does not like from becoming law.

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Third Parties in the United States

The Populist Party. The Reform Party. The Green Party. There have been a handful of third parties in the United States throughout its history as nation, but none have had the staying power of the two primary parties, the Democratic and Republican Party. Why is this the case? Is a strong and viable third party possible in the United States?

This video addresses the issue and discusses both the pros and cons of third parties in the U.S.. On the one hand, third parties (could) bring new ideas and issues to light; issues not currently tackled by the two major parties. On the other hand, third parties might make the current political environment even worse, leading to less congressional cooperation.

One thing this video does not address is the feasibility of third parties in the United States. Is the establishment of a third party possible within the structure of the American electoral system? Duverger’s law asserts that in a single-member, winner-take-all system a multiparty (more than two parties) system cannot be sustained. On the national level, voters have one vote for each political office and the candidate that gets a simple majority of the vote share wins the seat. There is little incentive for voters to vote for a third party and for potential political candidates to run with a third party.

"Revival"  by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)

“Revival” by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)

What about you, do you think third parties are feasible in the United States? Do you think third parties would help or hurt the current political environment?