Public policies are created to ensure the public’s safety and well-being. From amusement park regulations to laws on drinking and driving to more political issues, lawmakers put these policies in place for the best interests of the people. Sometimes the public does not find favor with these policies and have a different outlook of what the policy should be. This is called public opinion. These views and beliefs of an individual combined with a sizeable collective group, result in forming interest groups.
Interest groups consist of individuals who share the same beliefs and values, but do not keep it to themselves, but choose to make their voices heard. There are four types of interest groups: agriculture, labor, professional and the most common, business. According to Nabatchi (2012), “Public values are at the heart of public administration-they guide the field in accounting for public preferences and promoting the common good”. Interest groups look to recruit other participants who possess knowledge and shared goals. The members of an interest group not only educate citizens but also policy and lawmakers. The make-up of interest groups can vary. The most popular historical belief is that the group are brought together because of a common goal. For the group to succeed they need to have financial support, active members, leader and the level of support from individual legislators (Dusso, 2012).
Interest groups hold public meetings. These meetings can be on the local, state or federal level. Participation is encouraged because the members use this time to voice their concerns, provide input and encourage group unity (McComas, Besley & Black, 2010). Combining several voices into one can be utilized strongly in a process called lobbying. Interests groups are only as effective as the members it contains. Ordinary citizens are encouraged to join interest groups to make their opinions heard. While it is important to have financial stability and well-known individuals in a group, it is important to have a variety of members including citizens whose only interest is the focus of the group. To many citizens, it is important to have representation from all areas.
Interest groups use lobbying to influence legislators and law makers by providing information and education to them (Jordan & Meirowitz, 2012). There are two types of lobbying. Direct lobbying is being directly involved with addressing the desired changes, such as calling legislature personally while grassroots lobbying is encouraging someone else to call their legislature (Ellison, 2016). According to Nabathch (2012), having citizens lobby is looked upon favorably. By having citizens part of the interest groups gives the public a voice about issues that directly affect the public. Participation in these groups gives the public an identity that has been overlooked for some time due to politics. Ignoring the public has proved to be problematic and to avoid this in the future the public should be involved and have influence on future decisions.
One way to measure public opinion is through surveys and polls. Polls are many times administered by telephone. Participants are chosen by random and are asked a series of questions. Concerns about the survey are whether the person possess the knowledge on the subject to provide an educated response. There has been debate if the questions asked on the survey are forcing an answer or being led by the person giving the poll (Shapiro, 2009). Results of polls should be read with caution as more direct path for the public to voice their concerns is attend meetings and speak in person. Individuals can also call or write their congress person to voice their concerns. The way a person casts their vote can also be a way to silently but directly voice their opinion on an issue (Kraft & Furlong, 2017).
The media plays a significant role in several influential areas in politics. The media channels information and this information influences public opinion (Kuhnen & Niessen, 2012). There are many ways for an individual to receive information electronically and in real time. One must be cautious to receive information from an unknown source as the first amendment gives every person freedom of speech. This could include fake news. However, even credible sources have been known to be accused of being biased towards one pollical party over another. According to Djerf-Pierre and Shehata (2017) the more the media reports on a topic, the more the public will feel its significance and vice versa, little coverage provides less significance. This can be considered alarming as it would support if one group was able to finance more media time, the public may view that as more important than it should be.
The other area the media plays a substantial role is the usage of social media. Individuals can personal accounts such as Facebook or Twitter to share fake news and post their own political views. Individuals use their personal pages to post political stands and this can cause negative experiences. A study conducted by Kim (2016), explored the relationship between hostile Facebook environments with political participation. The results of the study reported hostile political behavior resulted in more political participation. This would demonstrate, individuals use Social Media to express their views but are most likely to stand behind their views in actions not just engaging in hostile conversation.
In conclusion, public opinion is important influences policy making. The public have more ways to be part of law-making including being a leader. The most important qualities a leader would need to possess is knowledge, education and a desire for the change, policy or person. Sharing these beliefs and values with other members is what will make an interest group succeed.