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Interest groups and their role is a contentious issue across the world. Napoleon Bonaparte said ‘Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent’, Interest and pressure groups form to influence all governments. In both democratic and non- democratic governments both regulated and unregulated interest groups form. Interest groups emerged parallel to political parties. Political parties are concerned with winning elections and are constantly adapting and broadening their appeal whereas interest groups can hold a distinct and clear cut position.
Interest groups establish an important link between the government and those governed in modern society. There is much discourse on whether interest groups enhance democracy or not and whether or not they should be regulated. Does the regulating of interest groups work? Interest groups are defined as ‘a group of people who share a common interest and work together to protect and promote that interest. This broad definition covers a vast array of groups from the abolition society founded in Britain 1787 to the National Rifle Association in the US.
This includes an incredible amount of groups and organisations. Each puts a varying level of pressure on to the government and are categorized further between communal groups, institutional groups and associational groups. Communal groups are groups which are based on by birth such as families, tribes, castes and ethnic groups. A defining factor in this group is their shared heritage, traditional bonds and loyalties. As societies industrialise it is expected that communal groups become less important and exert less pressure on the government. There are major exceptions to this for example the resurgence of ethnic nationalism across Europe, in particular Spain, France and Germany.
Institutional groups are “part of the machinery of government and attempt to exert influence through that machinery”. This refers to groups of bureaucrats and politicians who collectively exert pressure to pass legislation. This is present even within monolithic regimes like that in Nazi Germany which “concealed a reality of bureaucratic infighting” Interest groups are always present even within non-democratic regimes.
Associational groups are those that “are formed by people who come together to pursue shared, but limited goals”. Associational groups allow those who align themselves from across the political spectrum to focus and implement change on one issue. Associational groups are a factor of industrial societies, although they are becoming increasingly present in non-industrial societies. Associational groups are classified into sectional and promotional groups. Sectional groups purpose is to advance or protect the interests of their members.The NRA is an example of one such group. The National Rifle Association is a gun rights advocacy group based in the USA. It has an impressive history of political lobbying and campaigning against the introduction of gun control. It considers any proposals of firearms an infringement of the second amendment. It asserts gun control measure would not deter violence. Sectional groups represent a section of society, the NRA represents gun owners.Trade unions are also examples of sectional groups, the ASTI is an irish example of a trade union who represent secondary school teachers.
Promotional groups are groups which advocates for one specific purpose. This includes campaigns for nuclear disarmament, green-peace,civil liberties campaigns or pro-choice and pro-life lobbies. These groups are often called non-governmental organizations or NGOs when involved in international politics.
Another method of classification is based on the relationship the group has on the government and the methods they use in order to exert pressure on the government. Insider groups enjoy regular consultation and representation on government bodies. Insider groups must be broadly compatible with the government and as such insider status is not always an advantage.