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Advocacy groups (also pressure groups, lobby groups and some interest groups and special interest groups) use various forms of advocacy to influence public opinion and/or policy; they have played and continue to play an important part in the development of political and social systems. Groups vary considerably in size, influence and motive; some have wide ranging long term social purposes, others are focused and are a response to an immediate issue or concern.
Motives for action may be based on a shared political, faith, moral or commercial position. Groups use varied methods to try to achieve their aims including lobbying, media campaigns, publicity stunts, polls, research and policy briefings. Some groups are supported by powerful business or political interests and exert considerable influence on the political process, others have few such resources.
Some have developed into important social, political institutions or social movements. Some powerful Lobby groups have been accused of manipulating the democratic system for narrow commercial gain and in some instances have been found guilty of corruption, fraud, bribery and other serious crimes; lobbying has become increasingly regulated as a result. Some groups, generally ones with less financial resources, may use direct action and civil disobedience and in some cases are accused of being a threat to the social order or 'domestic extremists'. Research is beginning to explore how advocacy groups use social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action.
An advocacy group is a group or an organization which tries to influence the government but does not hold power in the government. A single-issue group may form in response to a particular issue area sometimes in response to a single event or threat. In some cases initiatives initially championed by advocacy groups later become institutionalized as important elements of civic life (for example universal education or regulation of doctors — see below for details). Groups representing broad interests of a group may be formed with the purpose of benefiting the group over an expended period of time and in many ways, example as Consumer organizations, Professional associations, Trade associations and Trade unions.
Advocacy groups exist in a wide variety of genres based upon their most pronounced activities.
Organizations can be categorized along the lines of the three elements of commerce: business owners, workers, and consumers.
In most liberal democracies, advocacy groups tend to use the bureaucracy as the main channel of influence – because, in liberal democracies, this is where the decision-making power lies. The aim of pressure groups here is to attempt to influence a member of the legislature to support their cause by voting a certain way in the legislature. Access to this channel is generally restricted to groups with insider status such as large corporations and trade unions – groups with outsider status are unlikely to be able to meet with ministers or other members of the bureaucracy to discuss policy. What must be understood about groups exerting influence in the bureaucracy is; "the crucial relationship here [in the bureaucracy] is usually that between the senior bureaucrats and leading business or industrial interests". This supports the view that groups with greater financial resources at their disposal will generally be better able to influence the decision-making process of government. The advantages that large businesses have is mainly due to the fact that they are key producers within their countries economy and, therefore, their interests are important to the government as their contributions are important to the economy. According to George Monbiot, the influence of big business has been strengthened by "the greater ease with which corporations can relocate production and investment in a global economy". This suggests that in the ever modernising world, big business has an increasing role in influencing the bureaucracy and in turn, the decision-making process of government.
Advocacy groups can also exert influence through the assembly by lobbying. Groups with greater economic resources at their disposal can employ professional lobbyists to try and exert influence in the assembly. An example of such a group is the environmentalist group Greenpeace; Greenpeace (an organisation with income upward of $50,000,000) use lobbying to gain political support for their campaigns. They raise issues about the environment with the aim of having their issues translated into policy such as the government encouraging alternative energy and recycling.
The judicial branch of government can also be used by advocacy groups to exert influence. In states where legislation cannot be challenged by the courts, like the UK, pressure groups are limited in the amount of influence they have. In states that have codified constitutions, like the USA, however, pressure group influence is much more significant. For example – in 1954 the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) lobbied against the Topeka Board of education, arguing that segregation of education based on race was unconstitutional. As a result of group pressure from the NAACP, the supreme court unanimously ruled that racial segregation in education was indeed unconstitutional and such practices were banned. This is a novel example of how pressure groups can exert influence in the judicial branch of government.
Advocacy groups can also exert influence on political parties. The main way groups do this is through campaign finance. For instance; in the UK, the conservative parties campaigns are often funded by large corporations, as many of the conservative parties campaigns reflect the interests of businesses. For example, George W Bush's re-election campaign in 2004 was the most expensive in American history and was financed mainly by large corporations and industrial interests that the Bush administration represented in government. Conversely, left-wing parties are often funded by organised labour – when the labour party was first formed, it was largely funded by trade unions. Often, political parties are actually formed as a result of group pressure, for example, the Labour Party in the UK was formed out of the new trade-union movement which lobbied for the rights of workers.
Advocacy groups also exert influence through channels that are separate from the government or the political structure such as the mass media and through public opinion campaigning. Pressure groups will use methods such as protesting, petitioning and civil disobedience to attempt to exert influence in Liberal Democracies. Groups will generally use two distinct styles when attempting to manipulate the media – they will either put across their outsider status and use their inability to access the other channels of influence to gain sympathy or they may put across a more ideological agenda. Traditionally, a prime example of such a group were the trade-unions who were the so-called "industrial" muscle. Trade-unions would campaign in the forms of industrial action and marches for workers rights, these gained much media attention and sympathy for their cause. In the USA, the Civil Rights Campaign gained much of its publicity through civil disobedience; African Americans would simply disobey the racist segregation laws to get the violent, racist reaction from the police and white Americans. This violence and racism was then broadcast all over the world, showing the world just how one sided the race 'war' in America actually was. As a result of the Civil Rights Campaign, institutionalised racism in the USA has all but been eradicated, up to the point that the USA now has an African American for President.
Advocacy group influence has also manifested itself in supernational bodies that have arisen through globalisation. Groups that already had a global structure such as Greenpeace where better able to adapt to globalisation. Greenpeace, for example, have offices in over 30 countries and has an income of $50 million annually. Groups such as these have secured the nature of their influence by gaining status as nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), many of which oversee the work of the UN and the EU from their permanent offices in America and Europe. Group pressure by supernational industries can be exerted in a number of ways: "through direct lobbying by large corporations, national trade bodies and 'peak' associations such as the European Round Table of Industrialist".
There are many significant advocacy groups through history, some of which could be considered to operate with different dynamics and could better be described as social movements. Here are some notable groups operating in different parts of the world:-
In some instances, advocacy groups have been convicted of illegal activity. Major examples include:
On some controversial issues there are a number of competing advocacy groups, sometimes with very different resources available to them:
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. Thus, there is no real incentive to join an interest group and pay dues if the farmer 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, an 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 one in which 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, donating 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; these members would merely 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 interest.
Much work has been undertaken by academics in trying to categorise how pressure groups operate, particularly in relation to governmental policy creation.
The field is dominated by numerous differing schools of thought:
1. Pluralism: This is based upon the understanding that pressure groups operate in competition with one another and play a key role in the political system. They do this by acting as a counterweight to undue concentrations of power.
2. Neo-Pluralism: This is based on the concept of political communities in that pressure groups and other such bodies are organised around a government department and its network of client groups. The members of this network co-operate together during the policy making process.
3. Corporatism: Some pressure groups are backed by private businesses which have a heavy influence on legislature
A study published in early 2012 suggests that advocacy groups of varying political and ideological orientations operating in the United States are using social media to interact with citizens every day. The study surveyed 53 groups, who were found to be using a variety of social media technologies to achieve organizational and political goals. Facebook was the social media site of choice with all but one group noting that they use the site to connect with citizens. Twitter was also popular with all but two groups saying that they use Twitter. Other social media being used included YouTube, Linkedin, wikis, Flickr, Jumo, Diigo, Tumblr, Foursquare, Identi.ca, Picasa and Vimeo. As noted in the study, "while some groups raised doubts about social media’s ability to overcome the limitations of weak ties and generational gaps, an overwhelming majority of groups see social media as essential to contemporary advocacy work, and laud its democratizing function."