Interest groups are a group of like-minded individuals who wish to influence public policy in some way. Most advocacy groups seek to engage in various communication forums to influence public opinions or political policies regarding their areas of common concern or interest.
There are three types of interest groups that typically form. Public-interest groups form to work toward the best interests of the general public within a certain subject matter. An interest group like Greenpeace would be an example of a public-interest group.
Professional groups form as a way to protect individual worker rights and benefits, while increasing potential business opportunities at the local level. Various professional associations, such as the National Education Association, would be an example of a professional group. Workplace unions are another common example.
The final option is the political interest group. These groups form around specific social issues that are important to them. They can be formed by individuals or by organizations to lobby for specific benefits. The goal of these groups is to advocate for their personal best interests without regard to the best interests of the general public.
These are the biggest pros and cons of interest groups to consider.
List of the Biggest Pros of Interest Groups
1. It gives individuals a greater voice to share their opinion or perspective.
Interest groups provide everyone with an opportunity to advocate for themselves in a political or socioeconomic environment. Workers form into unions because it is more difficult for an employer to ignore a group of individuals acting as one when compared to individuals advocating for themselves with only their own voice and ideas. By giving people the opportunity to form into groups, they can pressure society, at any level, to listen to what they have to say and examine their ideas or positions.
2. It encourages freedom of expression.
Joining an interest group of any type allows an individual to pursue topics that they are passionate about. It gives them an opportunity to be expressive without worrying about what will happen when their voice is heard. By working together, individuals within an interest group have the ability to contribute to the process of democracy by encouraging more people to think about new perspectives or ideas. In return, with a diverse set of opinions available, people can make empowered and informed decisions more often.
3. It provides a check and balance to the governing process.
Even if the majority disagrees with the interest group, the formation of such a group gives it more leverage to lobby politicians, speak to the press, and form a grassroots effort of resistance. Majority rule may be the primary governing influence for most governments, and interest groups allow this to be maintained, while also allowing minorities to advocate for their own religious, ethnic, and cultural preferences or identity.
4. It is a protected right in the United States.
Interest groups have a long history in the U.S. because of the First Amendment. It guarantees the right of the average citizen to peaceably assemble. In the March for Our Lives Event held on March 24, 2018, several million people gathered together, around the world, in a peaceful exchange of opinions. By guaranteeing the right to assemble peacefully, the formation of interest groups is encouraged. This allows more opinions to enter a society, making it possible for entire communities to make better decisions.
5. It creates a system that is inherently fair.
Fairness is defined as everyone having the same opportunity at the very beginning to achieve something. The system of interest groups creates fairness because everyone has an equitable opportunity to have their ideas heard. Some interest groups may be more successful than others, though that does not affect the definition of fairness. Interest groups level the playing field for everyone who wishes to get involved because it creates an environment of healthy competition.
6. It can motivate political legislators to take action.
Interest groups have a voice that is loud enough that can be heard by individuals who may be on the periphery of an issue. If they agree with the positions offered by the interest group, then they may choose to add their voice to the collective. When enough people begin to back a specific issue, elected officials begin to take notice. These people are voters who could remove them from office on the next election cycle, after all. That combination of factors can motivate politicians to take action on certain subjects, even if they may be hesitant to do so otherwise.
7. It allows for people to become politically involved in society.
For the average person, politics without an interest group involves watching the news, writing letters, talking on social media, and attending meetings or the occasional caucus. With an interest group, there is a new avenue for political activism that is not readily available to the average person. The interest groups provide relevant information to their members, who can then contact local representatives and advocate for changes at the local level. When more people are active politically, better decisions are often made.
8. It reduces the cost of activism.
Interest groups are designed to provide a form of activism. If individuals are active on their own, the cost requirements can be quite expensive. When involved with an interest group, these costs are disbursed throughout the entire group. It may be difficult for 1 person to pay $1 million in activity costs. If 10,000 people are involved, the individual cost would be just $100.
List of the Biggest Cons of Interest Groups
1. It advocates for the minority over the majority.
Interest groups are formed to advocate over specific issues. This can be beneficial to majority groups when done over professional issues, such as a union of workers or a professional association. In many instances, however, the purpose of an interest group is to advocate for the minority rather than for the majority. A recent example of this lobbying effort involves gun control in the United States. Although a majority of Americans want stricter gun control measures, lobbyists from various interest groups have successfully kept most legislation from being heard.
2. It focuses on one sole subject or classification.
Interest groups are generally focused on one subject only. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) advocates for animal care. They do not advocate for malnourished children living in Africa, healthcare access for the poor, or a reduction in global ocean waste. Although all three of these issues could have a positive impact on animals, PETA focuses on the physical care and treatment of animals without lobbying for the other issues. If an interest group becomes large enough, they may try to speak for an entire segment of a national or global society.
3. It does not usually end fairly.
Interest groups may help to create an equitable playing field, yet some groups still tend to have more leverage than others. This occurs because certain groups tend to be supported by individuals with greater resource access than other groups. More money equates to more chances to promote specific interests. For some interest groups, their lack of resource availability limits the reach of their voice.
4. It can advocate for things that are not in the best interests of society.
Interest groups that are formed with corporate money can be inherently misleading. These corporate groups will advocate for the best interests of the business sponsoring the group. Some may strive for interests that benefit the common good, but far too often, the goal of a corporately sponsored interest group is to advocate for better profits or reduced public relations fallout. When the tobacco industry was being sued by the U.S. Government because of their product, one of the first actions taken was to form a pro-tobacco interest group.
5. It can cause political gridlock.
As a general rule of thumb, the loudest voice typically wins the argument when interest groups are involved in a conversation. The problem with this rule is that many interest groups, advocating with equally loud voices, can create disarray for policymakers. Too many loud voices create confusion. Confusion within the legislative process slows down the process of making policies. This results in political gridlock. The polarization in U.S. politics is partially caused by the influence interest groups are allowed to have within the governing process.
6. It is not based on an elective process.
Many of the leaders of an interest group are nominated to their positions. Some even assume specific positions because they founded the interest group, or they have levels of influence that other members may not have. There are a few interest groups that do hold leadership elections, especially within the professional-type interest group, but the other types may not hold elections. That means the dominant voice of the group’s leadership may not fully represent the collective voice of all members.
7. It harms the many to help the few.
The focus of an interest group is to focus on policies and legislation which support their singular causes or issues. Their goal is to have these benefits concentrated within their specific areas of expertise. Although this can sometimes benefit society as a whole, more often than not, it creates a cost burden that is paid for by the majority, while the minority reaps the benefits from it. This cost distribution issue was part of the reason why the government in the State of Wisconsin restructured how public employee unions could be formed in 2011 with Act 10.
8. It has a history that involves unethical conduct.
Although we accept many of our political circumstances today, interest groups in the past lobbied through fraud, bribery, and other forms of corruption to create what we have. Even if it is legal, lobbyists pay politicians to influence their decisions on certain matters. Of course, there is no “guarantee” that a politician will change their mind. Lobbyists then pull the extra money if the results they want are not achieved. Even if this influence process is not illegal, many view it as immoral, which is why many interest groups have a poor reputation from individualized perspectives.
9. It can lead to improper governing systems.
If enough interest groups are able to influence the government to an extent where governing is based on the needs of the group, not the country as a whole, then a form of pluralism is created. That leaves the average citizen with two choices: join the interest group or accept their personal circumstances. At the end of the day, interest groups create enough competing priorities that the government becomes ineffective and is unable to meet some of the basic needs of the society.
The biggest pros and cons of interest groups show us that they can be a force for social good. They can also be a force for the good of the minority at the expense of the majority. Being able to organize peacefully should be a right for us all. It is important that we recognize this right, respect it, and listen to each opinion, even if it goes against our own, so that we all benefit from what interest groups are able to provide.