Defining and classifying interest groups

Abstract

The interest group concept is defined in many different ways in the existing literature and a range of different classification schemes are employed. This complicates comparisons between different studies and their findings. One of the important tasks faced by interest group scholars engaged in large-N studies is therefore to define the concept of an interest group and to determine which classification scheme to use for different group types. After reviewing the existing literature, this article sets out to compare different approaches to defining and classifying interest groups with a sample of lobbying actors coded according to different coding schemes. We systematically assess the performance of different schemes by comparing how actor types in the different schemes differ with respect to a number of background characteristics. This is done in a two-stage approach where we first cluster actors according to a number of key background characteristics and second assess how the categories of the different interest group typologies relate to these clusters. We demonstrate that background characteristics do align to a certain extent with certain interest group types but also find important differences in the organizational attributes of specific interest group types. As expected, our comparison of coding schemes reveals a closer link between group attributes and group type in narrower classification schemes based on group organizational characteristics than those based on a behavioral definition of lobbying.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Some of the authors within this category require that membership organizations also seek to influence policy in order to be classified as interest groups.

  2. 2.

    For alternative classification schemes used in recent research, see also Dür and Mateo (2012), Beyers and Kerremans (2007), Gray and Lowery (1996), Bouwen (2004).

  3. 3.

    European Voice, Agence Europe, Euractiv, Frankfurter AlgemeineZeitung, Le Monde and the Financial Times.

  4. 4.

    The project also mapped which actors participated in Commission consultations, in instances where a consultation took place. A large share of these actors are national and we therefore exclude them from the current sample. Such national actors are difficult to find in the Transparency Register. Including a large share of actors missing from the Register would be problematic because we are specifically interested in making comparisons with the Transparency Register group classification scheme and we also rely on this register for obtaining some of the crucial group background characteristics.

  5. 5.

    We exclude actor categories with only one actor from these calculations since they will also be perfectly ‘concentrated’.

  6. 6.

    These scores are calculated excluding the category of non-registered actors in the Transparency classification scheme and the non-classified actors in the Interarena scheme (that is, the Interarena non-interest groups).

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Correspondence to Laura Baroni.

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Baroni, L., Carroll, B., William Chalmers, A. et al. Defining and classifying interest groups. Int Groups Adv 3, 141–159 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1057/iga.2014.9

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Keywords

  • interest group classification
  • interest group definition
  • cluster analysis
  • INTEREURO
  • European Union