Interest Group: Definition, Purpose, Theory & Examples

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  • 0:00 What is an Interest Group?
  • 0:48 Public, Private, and…
  • 1:55 Purpose of Interest Groups
  • 2:33 Interest Group Theories
  • 3:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Winston

Kimberly has a MBA in Logistics & Supply Chain Management

Interest groups play a major role in shaping public policies that impact business practices. The following lesson will introduce you to the definition, purpose, theories, and examples of interest groups.

What is an Interest Group?

Throughout history, humans have had a strong tradition of voluntarily banding together for the purpose of enforcing their rights, supporting a cause, or even for economic gain. This act of solidarity to achieve a shared goal has occurred in all types of political systems.

Navigating the political terrain in an effort to influence public policy can be almost impossible alone. Many people join together with like minded individuals in interest groups. Interest group is a group of individuals that share a common interest in a specific subject and work jointly to influence public policy in its favor. Interest groups are also called pressure groups because they exert pressure on policy makers to influence public policies.

Public, Private and Economic Interest Groups

Interest groups can be either public or private. A public interest group attempts to attain benefits for society as a whole. These groups are usually related to causes like the environment, animal rights, or civil rights. Public interest groups consist of groups like Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Private interest groups attempt to obtain benefits for their members. Private interest groups consist of a broad range of organizations, including professional groups like the American Bar Association or labor union groups, like the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

The majority of interest groups are economic groups. These are groups that work toward the economic advancement of its members. This includes labor union groups, special interest groups like the National Rifle Association, or professional groups, like the American Bar Association. Agricultural groups such as the National Farmers Union and most other groups that represent business interest are also included in this category.

Purpose of Interest Groups

Influencing public policy is just one purpose of an interest group. To accomplish this, interest groups help to educate the general public, as well as policy makers, on their issues. They also look for ways to fund their causes. The National Rifle Association, for instance, is one of the largest and wealthiest interest groups. They are able to fund their organization by actively recruiting new members and charging dues.

Interest groups also work within communities to help get individuals elected. They raise money for campaigns they support. At election time, they have been known to canvas neighborhoods and provide transportation to get people to the polls.

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