Joining an interest group that seeks specific changes to public policy has benefits and can be fraught with particular challenges. One drawback for individuals participating in interest groups is the limited room for debate and collective searching for truth. Specifically, the so-called ideological groups, including the National Abortion Rights Action League or the Right to Life group, achieve influence thanks to their members’ unanimous opinion on a specific issue (Geer et al., 2020). This inevitably leads to the discouragement of intra- and inter-organizational debate. One may support a pro-life perspective and join an appropriate group but then realize the importance of more moderate views/exceptions and find out that any “compromise” is prohibited. Thus, the orientation towards total agreement can be problematic if a member wants to promote an opinion that is more nuanced than the entire group’s common perspective.
Another aspect of interest group participation that could be called a drawback is the risk of investing effort in campaigning and achieving no results. A participant’s fervent desire to promote change does not guarantee success since the so-called Super PACs’ almost unlimited opportunities to promote their interests might create big money battles (Geer et al., 2020). For instance, the Club for Growth is known for making significant campaign contributions to those supporting its perspectives on federal deficits, but not every interest group consists of wealthy members (Geer et al., 2020). Also, in isolation from the organization’s annual budget, having a large number of members is not necessarily conducive to substantial influence on the legislative process (Geer et al., 2020). As per political scholars, the prevailing theory of interest group power is that influential groups’ lobbyists “purchase legislators’ votes on particular bills” (Finger, 2019, p. 4). When joining a movement, one expects the interest group concept to promote a person’s right to exercise equality in expressing one’s perspective, but the money game can only lead to disappointment.
Regarding the opportunities, members of interest groups gain access to these organizations’ resources and informational products. It could be conducive to a person’s knowledge development and efforts peculiar to forming one’s political orientation. In the age of online communication, official members of interest groups can access exclusive documents devoted to recent policy developments and the analysis of the potential results of different courses of action (Geer et al., 2020). For instance, a physician who does not know much about political processes’ influences on his or her well-being as a professional can join the American Medical Association and address these knowledge gaps with the help of the organization’s informational resources. Professionals can learn more about their rights, their colleagues’ common issues, the role of current policy in shaping their professional field’s future, and what policy initiatives have been developed to promote their interests. Considering the diverse routes of knowledge dissemination within groups and their leaders’ devotion to awareness-building, joining an appropriate interest group is beneficial to knowledge.
Finally, the second potential opportunity refers to accessing some material benefits that could promote interest group participants’ further professional development, health, recreational goals, and so on. Selective benefits are widely used as a way of ensuring membership stability (Geer et al., 2020). For example, the National Education Association (n.d.) or NEA offers a vast array of benefits for its full-aged members. These include insurance programs, student loan debt management options, magazine subscriptions, cashback/online shopping discount programs, travel discount programs, and other opportunities (NEA, n.d.). Being an integral component of interest group membership, access to material benefits enables a person to get rewarded for contributing to the movement’s influence and growth, which can be life-improving.
Finger, L. K. (2019). Interest group influence and the two faces of power. American Politics Research, 47(4), 1-35.
Geer, J. G., Herrera, R., Schiller, W. J., & Segal, J. A. (2020). Gateways to democracy: An introduction to the American government (4th ed.). Cengage Learning.
National Education Association. (n.d.). Welcome to NEA member benefits.