Methods and tactics used by pressure groups to influence decision-making

US pressure groups have a variety of strategies at their disposal due to the numerous access points available to them. The specific tactics employed by these groups depend on factors like their size, available funds, and the accessibility of different access points. Larger or wealthier groups can utilize a wider range of tactics to influence both federal and state governments. Conversely, groups without insider connections may resort to more direct methods outside the political sphere, such as mass demonstrations and public relations stunts, to garner attention and media coverage. Despite these differences, US pressure groups have several key strategies to impact state and federal policymakers.


Given the number and frequency of US elections, pressure groups are presented with a range of opportunities to take part in the electoral process, in an attempt to affect the outcome or shift the policy positions of candidates. Perhaps the two key areas in this respect are through the provision of funding to candidates, either directly or indirectly, and through endorsements and 'get-out-the-vote' activities.

Many advocacy organizations play a crucial role in election campaigns in the United States by endorsing candidates, providing campaign donations, and publishing voting scorecards. These groups openly support candidates and rally their members and the public to vote for them. In addition to backing candidates, organizations with sufficient resources can contribute funds to political campaigns. Due to fundraising limitations for candidates' official campaigns, advocacy groups often donate to political action committees (PACs) and Super PACs. In 2018, the League of Conservation Voters allocated $85 million to electoral campaigning, surpassing spending by any other single-issue group. Their efforts led to winning back the House of Representatives for the Democrats, with nearly 60 of their endorsed congressional candidates successfully elected.

Pressure groups not only endorse candidates and provide financial support to their campaigns but also issue scorecards to inform voters about how candidates stand on key policies. These scorecards may analyze candidates' voting records or compare their stances with those of other candidates. Some examples of voting scorecards include the US Chamber of Commerce's 'How they Voted' scorecard for members of Congress, the NRA's grading of candidates from A to F based on their gun rights voting record, and the League of Conservation Voters' 'dirty dozen' list highlighting politicians with poor environmental records. In 2020, 5 out of the 12 federal candidates and 6 out of the 12 state candidates on the list were defeated. The League's 'Dirtiest of all Time,' President Donald Trump, was also defeated.


Funding 2016 Election

The Role of Campaign Finance  

Pressure groups raise the funds for much of the electioneering in the USA .These groups all seek to influence how voters look at the candidates, and thus indirectly shape opinions about a political candidate or party, without necessarily mentioning a specific candidate or instructing people how to vote.

The  growth of  PACs (Political Action Committees) and Super PACS  who collect and allocate money on behalf of  individuals and pressure groups who share common interests, has arisen following the introduction of electoral funding laws. They have become a means through which pressure groups can maximise their funding power..


US Interest groups, like most pressure groups in the UK, may use publicity to change public opinion, and may try to influence a voting  and public opinion — for example, by contacting potential voters who are likely to support the aims of the group.

Interest groups can run advertising campaigns through magazines, billboards or television, or can attract media attention with publicity stunts. For example, the NRA spends millions on publicity

Grassroots activism Activities undertaken by ordinary members of pressure groups, which are seen to be free of party political control. The main forms of activity are marches and demonstrations aimed at raising awareness of issues among voters and politicians. The growth of the Tea Party movement, since its birth on 15 April 2009, over criticism of President Obama's economic policies, healthcare plans and 'big government' initiatives, shows the power of grassroots movements. A well-timed demonstration, such as the 1963 March on Washington by various civil rights groups, can help put pressure on Congress, or push an issue onto the legislative agenda. Or the 1995 'Million Man March'. However, it may also be seen as a sign of pressure group weakness, or as a last resort for groups which are unable to gain insider status.

Pressure groups attempt to organise constituents to write to, telephone, e-mail or visit their member of Congress to express either support for or opposition to a certain policy. This is most likely to occur just before a high-profile committee hearing, floor debate or final passage vote. In January 2016, for example, a united cross-sector set of over 1,500 pressure groups representing, among others, organised labour and environmental groups, organised a joint letter-writing campaign urging Congress to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Grass roots activism can seem more authentic so it is manufactured by Astroturfing which is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g., political, advertising, religious or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants.

Using the Judiciary

Interest groups use the legal system to promote their cause or interest because the law and the Constitution can be powerful, especially to stop certain policies or practices. The NRA have used the 2nd Amendment (the right to bear arms) Supreme Court in cases such as DC versus Heller 2008, which ruled that the 2nd amendment gives an individual a right to a gun.

Pressure groups also try to influence the nominations the president makes to the federal courts, especially those to the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has very significant power, for example to interpret the Constitution and declare acts of Congress unconstitutional, thereby affecting the everyday life of ordinary Americans. The American Bar Association evaluates the professional qualifications of nominees and their evaluation can play a significant role in the confirmation process conducted by the Senate.

Pressure groups can hope to influence the courts by offering amicus curiae briefings. Through these, pressure groups have an opportunity to present their views to the court in writing before oral arguments are heard. Pressure groups have used this method to great effect in recent decades, in such areas as the civil rights of racial minorities, abortion and First Amendment rights. For example:

 By presenting legal briefings to a court which is undertaking judicial review, a pressure group would hope to sway the court's decision in its favour. These briefings have increased by over 800% since the 1940s, with 98 being filed in the 2013 Fisher v Texas ruling, by pressure groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

 Litigation: Funding test cases to the Supreme Court is a way in which pressure groups can secure a ruling which is favourable to their interests. The American Foundation for Equal Rights used the courts to challenge Proposition 8, which had banned a same-sex marriage law previously passed by the California state legislature. In the landmark Hollingsworth v Perry ruling the Supreme Court effectively overturned the ballot initiative by not allowing those traditional marriage activist groups, which had placed it on the ballot in 2008, to defend it in

·  court without the support of state officials.

■ One of the most active pressure groups in the courts is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Summary main ways interest groups can influence the legal process are:


Are interest groups good for democracy 

PACs and Super PACs 

Indirect Lobbying: Interest groups can use elections to highlight key issues, but often try to influence electoral outcomes, sometimes campaigning for or against particular candidates. One main strategy is to maximise turnout among certain voters. This has led to the creation of some interest groups specialising in affecting electoral outcomes, as can be seen in the case study of the League of Conservation Voters.