Whenever there is a particular issue or agenda that people want to encourage or prevent, groups of people come together to support the cause at hand. These groups are known as interest groups. You may be asking: what are interest groups and what do they do?
Interests groups are groups formed by people lobbying or advocating for particular issues that encourage or prevent certain policies. The main goal of an interest group is to initiate change and influence public policy. There are different types of interest groups that can be separated into several different categories. Interest groups can be very beneficial, but the agendas of some groups may come at a cost to others.
Interest Groups: The Basics
People come together to form an interest group to lobby and advocate for a wide variety of issues and topics. Common interest groups typically advocate for human rights, animals rights, environmental protection, and other common interests.
Interest groups start with one person or a group of people who have a common belief or interest. These groups grow larger when members effectively raise awareness of their issue. Depending on the type of interest group, it may sound like interest groups are similar to political parties. However, interest group members typically have no desire to become a political candidate.
The relationship that interest groups have with elected officials is often called the “iron triangle”. The iron triangle refers to the interactions between interest groups, Congress, and bureaucracies. Successful interest groups are well-funded and have the most power when it comes to influencing future laws and regulations.
Types of Interest Groups
Interest groups can be divided into seven different categories. Each category represents groups that cover general interests and concerns of a community or the public. Let’s take a look at the different types of interest groups and what they do.
1) Public Interest Groups
Public interest groups are one of the most common types of interest groups. These groups focus on broader issues that work to accomplish goals in the best interest of the public or community. Some examples of public interest groups include:
- The Heritage Foundation
- United Homeowners Association
- Sierra Club
These public interest groups not only benefit the members of the group, but also a majority of those within the community the group supports. Some public interest group members do actively participate in politics, but many do not intentionally seek to gain profits from public policy changes.
2) Economic Interest Groups
As the name suggests, economic interest groups deal with economical issues. Most economic interest groups involve consumer groups or labor and business matters. Members in an economic interest group advocate for issues that benefit groups members economically.
For example, the American Farm Bureau Federation is one of the largest agricultural interest groups in the nation. Members of this group work to empower farmers and ranchers, educate the public about agriculture, and advocate for policies that positively impact farmers.
3) Government Interest Groups
Government interest groups are created by local and state government officials to gain funding and support for governmental issues. An example of a government interest group is the National Governors Association (NGA). Members of the NGA include the governors of the states, territories, and commonwealths of the United States. They come together to discuss local, state, and federal government issues in relation to public policy.
4) Ideological Interest Groups
Ideological interest groups focus on various types of beliefs and issues. Strong beliefs and principles are the driving force in ideological interest groups. These groups closely relate to public interest groups because they typically focus on issues that are common concerns or beliefs of the public. The beliefs can be described as progressive, conservative, liberal, or radical.
An example of an ideological interest group is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP’s main goal is to advocate for inclusivity and civil and human rights to eliminate discrimination. They also support various other issues that involve education, environmental justice, and health.
5) Religious Interest Groups
Religious interest groups support causes and issues that directly relate to the members’ religious beliefs and values. Although there is separation of state and church, religious interest groups can still lobby for their particular interests that support their beliefs.
The Christian Coalition is one of the largest religious interest groups in America. This group advocates for various issues that revolve around conservative Christian beliefs of its members. Members of this group work to educate the public about traditional Christian views, such as pro-life advocacy.
6) Civil Rights Interest Groups
Civil rights groups are those that advocate for human and civil rights. Sometimes these interest groups can also fall under other interest group categories such as ideological interest groups. Civil rights interest groups participate in advocating for a variety of human and civil rights issues for the betterment of society.
An example of a civil rights interest group is the National Organization for Women (NOW). Members of the NOW advocate for various women’s rights issues. NOW can also be considered an ideological interest group because they advocate for other issues including racial justice and the LGBTQIA+ community.
7) Single-issue Interest Groups
Many interest groups tend to focus on more than one issue. Single-issue interest group members support one particular belief or interest. Many single-issue interest groups go head to head against each other since they support a specific issue. For example, the National Rifle Association (NRA) advocates for pro-gun laws and regulations. On the contrary, the National Coalition to Ban Handguns (NCBH) fights against pro-gun laws and advocates for gun control.
What Do Interest Groups Do?
The goal of an interest group is to gain enough recognition to tackle issues that members support to influence government policies. For example, environmental interest groups offer information to elected officials to initiate environmental protection laws, regulations, and programs.
People who have strong beliefs about certain issues begin advocating for their beliefs and interests to educate the public and gain more support. Even the most known interest groups started out small, often being founded by just one person.
Interest groups function in three ways:
- Advocate and promote interests by educating the public
- Gain membership support
- Participate in debates on policies and influence policymakers
Interest groups are all about gaining support and they do this by educating the public. If not enough people support the interest at hand, influencing the public to initiate programs and encouraging change can be difficult. Interest groups that have hundreds of thousands to millions of members are able to receive much more funding than smaller groups. Funding can help launch interest group initiatives and campaigns.
With enough support and funding, interest groups can make a huge impact on government policy. When it comes down to it, public opinions and interest groups can and do influence government decisions. They do this by conducting research and providing elected officials with information to influence policymaking.
Interest groups generally target Congress and bureaucracy by supporting certain bills and regulations. Oftentimes, interest groups are able to provide congressmen and bureaucrats with research information to draft bills. Well-funded interest groups generally have a huge impact on policymaking because they are able to support elected officials and encourage policies that benefit interest group members. Interest groups may also use their funding to support elected officials in their campaigns.
Pros and Cons of Interest Groups
There’s a huge debate over whether interest groups are good or bad. Interest groups can accomplish many different agendas that improve policy making and changes. However, they can also negatively impact certain groups depending on their agenda.
Pros of Interest Groups
Interest groups that benefit the public in some way are typically a great thing. Large groups that advocate for change shows others that if you believe in something enough, you can accomplish a great deal. Some of the advantages of interest groups include:
- More opportunities for the public to participate in policy making
- Influence and facilitate change that benefits the public
- Gives members access to more information about public policy
Interest groups are a great way for the public to be involved in sharing ideas and having a say in policymaking. Even if people aren’t a part of an interest group, they are often educated by interest groups that receive a lot of attention about certain policies that are being recommended or reviewed.
Since there are many different interest groups with varying perspectives, they tend to balance each other out. However, some interest groups have much more power than others, which can negatively impact governing systems.
Cons of Interest Groups
Although interest groups can be very effective and speed up the legislative process, there are some disadvantages.
- Well-funded interest groups tend to have a greater influence on policy making compared to smaller groups
- Some groups may not act in the best interest of the public or majority
- Too many disagreements between groups can obstruct the legislation process
The biggest downside to interest groups is imbalance of power, which can lead to corruption. Large, well-funded interest groups often get more of a say in policymaking. This drowns out the voices of smaller interest groups, who usually don’t get nearly as much attention.
How Can an Interest Group Affect Government Policy?
Interest groups have a great impact on government policy making. Interest groups with the most success in affecting government policies are those with a large support system. Members of interest groups can lobby Congress and influence elected officials.
The Sierra Club is an environmental interest group that pushed for Congress to pass the California Desert Protection Act in the 1990s. The act supported one of the Sierra Club’s main missions of wildlife preservation.
The Heritage Foundation is a conservative interest group that advocates for a number of issues that fit the conservative ideology. This group is recognized as having a major influence on public policy. For example, The Heritage Foundation played an important role in offering ideas to Congress for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017.
The success of an interest group affecting public policy largely depends on the practices that interest groups carry out to make change. One of the most important things an interest group can do to have an impact on public policy is to monitor current events and present elected officials with research and proposals that the majority will support.
Overview: What Are Interest Groups
Interest groups are groups of people who don’t have a desire to become a political candidate, but still want to make a change by creating programs and influencing public policy. Members of interest groups can advocate and lobby for policies that benefit their own interests and agenda. Sometimes interest groups can harm others, but they also have the ability to make reforms that benefit the majority of the public
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