What is an Iron Triangle?

Author: Sylvia Kniest

Time: One class period
Make a transparency and copy articles from the websites listed below.
Materials: Transparency on example of Iron Triangles and article, “Iron Triangles”


Students will discuss how interest groups, congress and the executive branch play a role in policy making to make up the Iron Triangle

Students will be able to:
1. List the three points of the Iron Triangle and explain the role they have on public policy
2. Identify the role that private citizens can have on the process.

National Standards For Civics and Government
V-E How can citizens take part in civic life?
III-E How does the American political system provide for choice and opportunities for participation?

Teacher Background
Make a transparency from: http://www.uh.edu/~dsocs3/visualaids/interestgroups/ed52.htm
to illustrate an example of Iron Triangles

Resource Websites
http://www.ofcn.org/cyber.serv/academy/ace/soc/cecsst/cecsst095.html (Description of an Iron Triangle)
http://www.uh.edu/~dsocs3/visualaids/interestgroups/ed52.htm (visual on Iron Triangle)



1. Ask students what the following groups have in common:
Secretary of Energy, member of the Nuclear Energy Institute and Chairman of the committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

2. Have students read, “Iron Triangles” by John Balistere from http://www.ofcn.org/cyber.serv/academy/ace/soc/cecsst/cecsst095.html

a) Discuss: Why do presidents have a difficult time getting their policy initiatives passed?
b) Where do private citizens play a role?
3. Make a transparency or hand out of the visual from: http://www.uh.edu/~dsocs3/visualaids/interestgroups/ed52.htm
a) Which part of the iron triangle appears to have the greatest power over policymaking? Why?
b) What major potential for influence do the other two groups have?

Hold a class discussion on the following:
Can any president fulfill his or her campaign promises or the promises he or she makes to the American people?
What would it take for him or her to do so? What might be other examples of issues where there is an iron triangle?


Embedded Assessment

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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