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An interest group (also advocacy group, lobby group, pressure group or special interest group) is an organization that seeks to influence political decisions. This can be done by explaining the benefits of a policy to the relevant politicians, by making financial contributions or incentives, or a combination of the two. Public and private corporations work with lobbyists to persuade public officials to act or vote according to group members’ interests.



Sectional groups represent the interests of their members. They include:

In the course of representing the interest of their members these groups are often active participants in the political process. They may have both well defined political agendas and the financial resources necessary to exert broad influence on the political and regulatory process; utilizing direct lobbying, letter-writing campaigns, and voter turnout efforts during elections.

Promotional or single-issue groups

Promotional or single-issue groups (cause or attitude groups) seek to influence policy in a particular area, such as the environment (Greenpeace), gun laws (National Rifle Associationmarker), drug laws (Drug Policy Alliance), the protection of birds (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), or animal rights (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). These tend to be aligned toward a political ideology or seek influence in specific policy areas.

Benefits and incentives

The general theory is that individuals must be enticed with some type of benefit to join an interest group. Known as the Free Rider Problem, it refers to the difficulty of obtaining members of a particular interest group when the benefits are already reaped without membership. For instance, an interest group dedicated to improving farming standards will fight for the general goal of improving farming for every farmer, even those who are not members of that particular interest group. So there is no real incentive to join an interest group and pay dues if they will receive that benefit anyway. Interest groups must receive dues and contributions from its members in order to accomplish its agenda. While every individual in the world would benefit from a cleaner environment, that Environmental protection interest group does not, in turn, receive monetary help from every individual in the world.

Selective material benefits are benefits that are usually given in monetary benefits. For instance, if an interest group gives a material benefit to their member, they could give them travel discounts, free meals at certain restaurants, or free subscriptions to magazines, newspapers, or journals. Many trade and professional interest groups tend to give these types of benefits to their members. A selective solidary benefit is another type of benefit offered to members or prospective members of an interest group. These incentives involve benefits like "socializing congeniality, the sense of group membership and identification, the status resulting from membership, fun and conviviality, the maintenance of social distinctions, and so on. A solidary incentive is when the rewards for participation are socially derived and created out of the act of association.

An expressive incentive is another basic type of incentive or benefit offered to being a member of an interest group. People who join an interest group because of expressive benefits likely joined to express an ideological or moral value that they believe in. Some include free speech, civil rights, economic justice, or political equality. To obtain these types of benefits, members would simply pay dues, donate their time or money to get a feeling of satisfaction from expressing a political value. Also, it would not matter if the interest group achieved their goal, but these members would be able to say they helped out in the process of trying to obtain these goals, which is the expressive incentive that they got in the first place. The types of interest groups that rely on expressive benefits or incentives would be environmental groups and groups who claim to be lobbying for the public interest.

Some public policy interests are not recognized or addressed by a group at all, and these interests are labeled latent interests.

Interest groups around the world

See also


  1. John R. Wright "Interest Groups and Congress, Lobbying, Contributions, and Influence" pp. 19–22.
  2. Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action (Harvard U. Press, 1971) pp. 111–131.
  3. John R. Wright "Interest Groups and Congress, Lobbying, Contributions, and Influence" pp. 19–21.
  4. Olson, The Logic of Collective Action pp. 133–134.
  5. Peter B. Clark and James Q. Wilson, "Incentive Systems: A Theory of Organizations" Administrative Science Quarterly 6 (1961): pg. 134-135.
  6. Robert H. Salisbury, "An Exchange Theory of Interest Groups." Midwest Journal of Political Science 13 (1969): pp. 1–32.


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