Elected officials come in three levels: federal, state, and local. You have a role in determining who gets elected to all three. You can think of these officials as three tiers of a wedding cake: As you move down, each layer gets larger and larger, with more and more politicians. The president and the vice president go on top of the cake of politicians. It's up to you whether or not they hold hands, or whether you want to file for divorce at the next election. So, I think our system is truly democratic.
Interest groups are one important mechanism through which citizens in the United States make their ideas, needs, and views known to elected officials. Citizens can usually find an interest group that focuses on their concerns, no matter how specialized they may be. Directories of American voluntary associations reveal the incredible variety of reasons why citizens band together. The Gale Research, Inc., Encyclopedia of Associations is widely regarded as one of the most comprehensive lists. Not all of these groups are politically active, but a great many try to influence public policy.
Both the formal structure and the informal traditions of American politics provide fertile ground for interest groups. One feature of the American system that enhances their influence is the relative weakness of U.S. political parties, which stems, in part, from the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. In a parliamentary system such as Great Britain, where the prime minister's hold on office depends on majority support in Parliament, parties exert considerable control over legislators and, as a consequence, over policy making. In contrast, elections of the U.S. president and Congress are politically separate events, even when held at the same time. Each legislator must construct a winning coalition in his or her state or district, and the nature of these coalitions is quite different from the majority coalition that the successful presidential candidate assembles. Clear evidence for this is the fact that Congress and the presidency have been in the control of opposing parties most of the time since World War II. As a consequence, neither Democrats nor Republicans are invariably bound to support the positions of their party's president or their party's electoral platform. Weak party loyalty enhances interest-group influence, both during elections, when their financial support can be critical, and afterwards, when groups that supported the winning candidate become closely involved in policy making.