International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2

By Jay M. Shafritz | Go to book overview

tation" (p. 131). The major objective of solidarity groups is to promote and maintain their identity; they may also pursue economic interests such as equal pay, which still remains an important goal of women's rights groups. Maintaining and promoting the identity of their group members is the major objective of solidarity groups.

Special interest groups pursue narrowly defined objectives and are concerned and motivated by single policy issues. In recent years, special interest groups have increased their activism especially in the area of policy development and implementation. They provide the impetus for government action in specialized areas such as the environment, consumerism, and industry. Their power and influence on administrative and legislative processes is probably more effective than that of most groups. The National Rifle Association of America ( NRA), which supports the constitutional rights of American citizens to own guns, claimed victory in defeating the reelection of congressmen who supported regulation of gun ownership in the past general elections. As the most highly motivated and organized pressure groups in Washington, D.C., special interest groups are perceived by the general public to have too much influence on government.

Interest Group Tactics

Interest groups use several tactics to draw public attention to their concerns or to influence public officials. Lobbying, public demonstrations, litigation, use of the media, coalition building, and terrorism are among the tactics frequently used. Lobbying is used by interest groups to persuade or pressure public officials to either defeat legislation or secure its passage. Typically, lobbyists strive to promote passage of legislation that is in the interest of their members and defeat legislation that is not in their interests. The tactic of lobbying can involve direct face-toface contacts with public officials or indirect contacts through letter-writing campaigns, electronic mail, phone calls, and the like. In addition to increasing their impact on public policy, interest groups use the process of lobbying to secure access to public officials, to establish links with regulatory agencies, to monitor legislative and agency activities, and to influence outcome of legislation or bureaucratic decisions.

Interest groups also use the media to advance their interests in society by attempting to influence both public opinion and government officials. Placing advertisements in newspapers or magazines, buying radio and television time, sending direct campaign letters to public officials, and using electronic media are some of the techniques employed by interest groups. For instance, the use of graphic television images is a very effective media technique that interest groups often use to garner public support or gain government attention to involve them in stopping hunger, deforestation, torture, and so forth. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and environmental groups such as Greenpeace rely on the media to influence public opinion or effect change in government policy. Organized groups also utilize the media to expose improper bureaucratic behavior and activities.

Interest groups use litigation as a tactic to effect changes in laws that they believe affect their interests. The legal system often becomes the last resort for interest groups to challenge the constitutionality of a measure, to compel the government to enforce the law, or to stop the implementation of a policy measure detrimental to their interest. They may sue a government agency or a private party directly or bring amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," briefs to court, especially when constitutional issues are involved.

Terrorism is another tactic used by some interest groups. While not extensively practiced in the United States, terrorism is used by some groups around the world to pressure governments into taking certain action demanded by such groups. The objective of groups using terrorism is to disrupt the normal functioning of government or society by engaging in hostage taking, hijacking, property destruction, and bombings.

To draw public attention to a specific issue of concern, interest groups sometimes hold public demonstrations in support or opposition of particular public policy action or inaction. Demonstrations staged by these groups may begin peacefully and often turn violent, especially when the government decides to suppress demonstrators by employing organized forces such as the police and the national guard. For instance, groups seeking racial equality in the United States as well as an end to apartheid in South Africa used public demonstrations as one of their tactics and often met brutal suppression by government forces.

Interest groups build coalitions when they share certain concerns and believe that working together can enhance their ability to influence public policy. Coalitions are usually formed around issues. Environmental groups, for example, relied on coalitions to counter the government's efforts to relax regulations on businesses during Ronald Reagan's presidency in the 1980s ( Buchholz 1992).



Almond, Gabriel, and Sidney Verba, 1963. Civic Culture. Boston: Little, Brown.

Buchholz, Rogene A., 1992. Business Environment and Public Policy: Implications for Management and Strategy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Levine, Charles B. Guy Peters, and Frank J. Thompson, 1990. Public Administration Challenges, Choices, Consequences. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.

Hrebenar, Ronald J., and Ruth K. Scott, 1990. Interest Group Politics in America. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Murphy, Thomas P., 1973. Pressures upon Congress: Legislation by Lobby. Woodbury, NY: Barron's Educational Series.


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