Majority of advanced societies are pluralistic. Accordingly, divergent views and interests have led to the formation of interest groups within these societies. Interest groups are, thus, a common feature in advanced liberal democracies. Examples of interest groups include businesses, labour unions and professional associations.
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Interest groups aim at drawing attention to their interests in order to put pressure on political institutions. Therefore, interest groups are a sure way of demanding service from the political class. Nonetheless, if not well regulated, interest groups can exert unnecessary pressure to the political class.
Consequently, unpopular policies are formulated and enacted. Therefore, interest groups can have positive and negative impacts on a democracy. This essay looks at merits and demerits of interest groups to a democracy.
One of the objectives of a democratic process is representation. Interest groups present the sentiments of a group to a government and the general public. Therefore, interest groups are one of the most important instruments of democracy. Virtually all political opinions are shared by a group of people. For instance, there are pro-life, pro-choice, gun rights advocates and other interest groups in the US.
Representative governments or moralistic political cultures believe that a significant number of electorates do not participate in policy making. These governments or cultures are, thus, built on the notion that most voters involve themselves in the political process through elections only. Interests groups are formed to counter this notion. Interest groups, therefore, supervise an elected government.
In most instances, these groups conduct research and create position statements on specific issues. These statements are later presented to politicians. To win over their support, politicians are compelled to pay attention to interest groups. In addition, interest groups use legal action to achieve objectives that are almost impossible to realize through legislation.
Interest groups have been known to influence the government into making very useful legislations. However, interest groups have also compelled political institutions to pass laws that are unpopular with the masses. In view of that, interest groups can distort an almost perfect democratic process.
Furthermore, some interest groups are heavily funded and well connected. Consequently, the playing field is not level for all interest groups. In most cases, governments act on issues raised by interest groups that are politically active. Therefore, other electorates who are not part of powerful interest groups are locked out of the political process.
Moreover, it is difficult to join some interest groups. For instance, it is impossible for a low-class or middle-class citizen to join an interest group made up of wealthy businessmen. Policies made under the influence of such interest groups are more likely to favour financial elites than the low-class and middle-class citizens.
Interest groups are an important element of any vibrant democracy. People’s will is presented to politicians and the general public through interest groups. Accordingly, most government policies are an outcome of the competition between various interest groups.
However, influence of the ‘big money’ is real in politics. Therefore, rich and well connected interest groups receive more attention from elected leaders. For that reason, there is no level playing ground for all interest groups. This has led to some interest groups dictating policies that are not consistent with the interests of the majority. Therefore, unless controlled, interest groups can be detrimental to a country’s democratic process.