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Pressure Groups. Definition : Organized groups whose aim is to influence public policy or to protect or advance a particular cause or interest.

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Definition: Organized groups whose aim is to influence public policy or to protect or advance a particular cause or interest.

Pressure groups and political parties – parties seek to win public office and from the government while groups seek to influence public policy. Parties focus on the national interest whereas groups may be concerned may be concerned with sectional issues/single issues.


  • Sectional or interest – its activities directly benefit its members. An example, a trade union.
  • Promotional or cause – the wider public is likely to benefit from the issues the group will seek to have addressed.
  • Other categories are insider and outsider. An insider group works closely with the government, its goals are aligned with those of the authorities. An outsider group are largely excluded from political consultation and contact because its goals are counter to those of the government.
  • Representation
  • Participation
  • Education
  • Policy formulation and implementation
targets of pressure groups methods and strategies
Targets of Pressure Groups: Methods and Strategies
  • Ministers and civil servants – these groups are at the center of the policy making and implementation process. Governments consult groups because, they need specialised knowledge and advise to inform the policy process; they need cooperation so that implementation of policy is less problematic; they need a sense of how the affected group would react.
  • Political parties - the UK has a system of party government and influencing party policy can lead to influencing government policy. Parties are influenced through funding and donations. However, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Act 2000 requires disclosure of contributions from foreigners.
  • Parliament – groups lobby Parliament if they find it difficult to gain access to the executive. Parliament is lobbied through private members’ bills, written and oral questions, writing to MPs and peers, involvement in select committees’ inquiries, etc.
  • Public opinion – strategies such as petitions, marches, destruction of property, etc, are used to influence government indirectly by pushing issues up the political agenda and to demonstrate the extent of public support for or against a particular issue. The aim is to get the media attention and thereby gain wider influence.
  • European Union – lobbying of EU institutions has grown since Britain became a member of the EU. The EU now extend its policy making in areas once under the sole control of the British Parliament, e.g. the environment.
factors influencing power
Factors Influencing Power
  • Wealth – business groups are financially and economically powerful because they are the main providers of employment and investment, can hire professional lobbyists, make donations and run advertising campaigns.
  • Size – the advantages that size gives include, the likelihood of government listening to the groups because numbers may mean success or failure at the polls; increase subscriptions/donations can be used to fund causes/candidates (cheque-book groups); the power to organize campaigns and protests. N.B. size does not always guarantee success.
  • Organization and leadership – a well organized group is able to mobilise it human and financial resources. Quality leadership has a number of advantages: political skills, good political contacts, media and presentation skills and a high public profile.
  • Government’s views – groups are more likely to succeed when government is broadly in agreement with their goals. Groups’ whose goals are at odds with those of the government are placed in the position of ideological outsider and likely to change policy in the long-term rather than short-term.
Effectiveness of Opposition – It is more likely for a group to fail or succeed because of the strength or weakness of the forces that oppose it.

Public support – pressure groups that enjoy high public support have greater have greater political influence than those with little support.

why have pressure groups become more important
Why have pressure groups become more important
  • The growth of cause groups – the growth of cause groups has been linked to the idea of ‘new politics’ which has seen more people becoming involved in political activities. New types of participation include anti-globalization and cyber-activism. Cyber-activism refers to political action based on the use of the internet, mobile phones, etc.
  • More access points – new pressure points have emerged in the UK – Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly and Welsh Assembly, the passage of the Human Rights Act 2000, EU institutions.
  • Globalisation – Business groups have benefitted greatly in an environment. They are able to move production and investment easily across borders thus forcing UK government to cut taxes and reduce corporate regulation. As government relax their over-sight of businesses, NGO’s or social movements have been established to provide monitoring of businesses.
decline of pressure groups
Decline of Pressure Groups

Importance of pressure groups not an idea universally accepted. An argument for the decline of pressure groups based on two developments:

  • Prior to Thatcher’s administration 1979, there was a close relationship between government and the key economic groups in the formulation of public policy. The special relationship ended because Thatcher was suspicious of trade unions and all organized interests. In the era of free market ideas all successive governments have tended to discourage any alliance between themselves and pressure groups.
  • Another explanation is that membership size does not mean group activity. Many members’ participation is limited to their contribution. Large numbers of people at marches seldom leads to long-term political involvement. This condition is referred to as ‘lifestyle politics’.
pressure groups and democracy
Pressure Groups and Democracy

Theories of pressure groups: elitism and plurism.

  • Elitism – Pareto and Mosca argue that democracy was a myth because political power was always exercised by a privileged minority or elite. They extend the argument further by claiming that resources are unequally distributed and even in a parliamentary democracy an organized minority will always be able to manipulate and control the masses.
  • Pluralism – a theory of group politics which states that I democratic political systems various groups of competing interests exist. Governments listen to the views of all individual groups and all are able to influence the authorities equally.

The UK is said to have a pluralist political culture. The ensures that pressure are tolerated and protected from discrimination so long as they do not break the law, adopt racist ideas, incite others to commit crimes or threaten the security of the state.

Pressure groups are said to enhance pluralism and make the democratic system much more effective. Some ways democracy is enhanced are:
  • Groups keep government in touch with public opinion between elections; they give a political voice to minority groups and express concerns that are ignored by political parties, e.g. global poverty, civil liberties, the environment.
  • The growing membership of pressure groups helps to undermine the argument that the UK is suffering from a ‘democratic deficit’. Single issue groups and the newer cyber-based groups have proved very popular with young people and grass roots activists.