Pressure Groups

Pressure Groups

Definition and Types

  • Pressure groups are organised groups that seek to influence government policy or protect or advance a particular cause or interest.
  • They can be categorised as Sectional (or interest) groups and Cause (or promotional) groups.

Sectional Pressure Groups

  • These represent a specific section of society, such as a trade union or an industry.
  • Examples include National Farmers’ Union and British Medical Association.
  • Their primary goal is to promote the economic or professional interests of their members.

Cause Pressure Groups

  • These aim to promote a particular cause or issue and not the vested interests of members.
  • Examples include Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth.
  • Membership is often open to anyone who supports the cause being promoted.

Function of Pressure Groups

  • Pressure groups play a key role in the political landscape, they tend to operate away from the formal political sphere and have a complex relationship with political parties.
  • They pursue their goals by lobbying politicians, using the media to raise awareness and generate public sympathy for their cause, promoting research and knowledge, and sometimes direct action, such as strikes or protests.

Influence and Effectiveness

  • The influence of a pressure group is typically judged by its ability to change policy or legislation in its favour.
  • Factors that can impact a pressure group’s effectiveness include: its resources, public support, and the socio-economic status of its members.
  • Some critics argue that pressure groups can undermine the democratic process by giving a disproportionately loud voice to well-resourced interests.

Relationship with Government

  • Government and pressure groups usually have an ongoing relationship, either through formal, statutory mechanisms or informal links.
  • Revolver door syndrome refers to the flow of individuals between roles in public sector and positions within pressure groups, often leading to relations based on mutual benefit.
  • Pressure groups can act as a source of specialist information and expertise for government, and conversely, holding government to account on behalf of their interest or cause.

Remember that the role, impact and reach of pressure groups varies greatly and is influenced by a variety of factors, including the political climate, the issue or cause they promote, and their methods of operation.