Interest groups help communicate and legitimize government policies in several ways. As instability is sure to attract political activity, it also attracts interest groups to meddle in such political activity. When certain government policies conflict with the specific interests of these groups, they can call the attention of the government through public demonstrations or protests.
They can also use mass media to inform the general public about their views on certain government policies, thereby communicating not only their position on the issues involved but also the government policies being addressed. On the other hand, when certain government policies support the interests of these groups, they can further enhance the legitimacy of such policies by conducting a public forum designed to increase the public’s awareness on such policies, thereby gathering more public support.
Even without interest groups, communicating and legitimating government policies can still be achieved. For the most part, people can still organize themselves without holding a collective interest other than the inclination to either support or protest an existing government policy.
Since a more developed country is most likely populated by more interest groups, governments faced with the task of issuing specific policies in order to foster economic growth are most likely to face opposition from certain interest groups who oppose such policies. One example is when a government decides to issue a policy of free trade in response to the need of increasing the country’s trading activities so as to stimulate the economy.
Interest groups opposing the government policy of free trade can stage demonstrations in public locations. Doing so can increase their chances of being heard by the government and, in consequence, compelling the government to adjust its policies accordingly. At the same time, these interest groups will openly communicate to the public the reasons why they oppose the policy without forcing them to join their cause. At the least, public demonstrations serve the purpose of informing the public and the government that a sector of the society opposes certain government policies.
Mass media plays a key role in communicating the views of interest groups towards government policies. Since individuals interact with issues emphasized in media coverage, there is reason to believe that interest groups can reach and influence public perception through mass media in general. Interest groups can publish their articles through paid newspaper column space on a specific date of issue that they feel will have a lasting and strong impression on readers.
Interest groups opposing specific provisions in government policies on healthcare, for instance, can pay for a space in a major newspaper where they can state their reasons for opposing the provisions and the alternatives that can be done. The method will most likely reach a large part of the population due to the large circulation of a major newspaper, thereby informing a broad segment of the public.
Television and radio shows also provide avenues for interest groups to communicate to the public their position on government policies. For example, an interest group opposing the existing government policy on carbon emissions can either make a request to television networks to provide them with a show where they can air their views or accept invitations for discussions or interviews on television. Whether or not these interest groups are able to convince the viewing public, it is likely that they are still able to communicate a portion of the substance of the government policy on carbon emissions.
On the other hand, interest groups can also legitimize government policies, especially those that are aligned with their concerns. One way of achieving it is to conduct a public forum where people can participate or simply listen to discussions about the policies. For instance, interest groups can hold a public forum in the town hall and discuss immediate concerns regarding the current government policy on immigration.
With the immigration policy favoring their side, these interest groups can disseminate the information about the benefits of the policy which can eventually translate to more public support. Since the key principle is that the people is the source of the government’s power, public discussions conducted by interest groups which are able to gather public support for government policies further legitimize such policies.
The pressure of interest groups to their Congressional Representatives can also legitimize government policies. Letters to Congressional Representatives coming from interest groups can help inform these representatives that a portion of their constituents are in support of a government policy that the representative may or may not actually favor.
Through such letters, interest groups can put a pressure on their dissenting representatives to favor the government policy regardless of political affiliations. Signature campaigns when taken together with letters to Congressional Representatives can add more weight to the support given to government policies, giving these representatives more reason to align their positions with the public perception.
Nevertheless, government policies can be communicated or legitimized to a certain degree despite the absence of interest groups. Other ways to achieve the goal of communicating and legitimizing government policies include signature campaigns, public dialogue with government officials and infomercials sponsored by the government.
Through the initiative of a few individuals, signature campaigns can be launched in support of or opposition to certain government policies. Signature campaigns of this nature do not necessarily require the leadership of interest groups since private individuals can also gather public signatures even without an affiliation to any specific interest group. The purpose is to simply gather signatures as many as possible without attempting to form a formal group out of the total number of participants.
Public dialogue with government officials can also be a way to inform the public about government policies. The dialogue can be sponsored by the office of the concerned government official or the local members of the community. Through dialogue, government officials are able to discuss in detail the purpose and nature of certain government policies. People are also given the chance to ask relevant questions to the government official whose response can further inform the public.
Airing infomercials over the television or radio is also a way for the government to communicate its policies to the public and to further show the legitimacy of such policies. Since an infomercial is basically a “one-way” type of communication, it can simply inform the public about government policies at best. Government policies communicated to the public through radio or television infomercials are already assumed to be legitimate; the government is presumed to disseminate information about government policies that are lawful and approved by the concerned government agency.
Despite the possibility of communicating and legitimating government policies in the absence of interest groups, it is better if interest groups are still able to challenge or reaffirm government policies especially when taken in the context of a democratic society. The presence of interest groups can indicate the health of the political activity in any country. In their absence, the legislature and the government in general may possibly overlook vital social and political concerns or abuse their power to create and enforce policies.
Bischoff, Ivo. “Determinants of the Increase in the Number of Interest Groups in Western Democracies: Theoretical Considerations and Evidence from 21 OECD Countries.” Public Choice 114, no. 1/2 (2003): 197-218.
Domke, David, Dhavan V. Shah, and Daniel B. Wackman. “Rights and Morals, Issues, and Candidate Integrity: Insights into the Role of the News Media.” Political Psychology 21, no. 4 (2000): 641-65.
Levmore, Saul. “Voting Paradoxes and Interest Groups.” The Journal of Legal Studies 28, no. 2 (1999): 259-81.