The term ‘pressure group’ refers to any interest group whose members because of their shared common attributes make claims on the other groups and on the political process. They pursue their interests by organising themselves and by influencing the governmental policies. Their aim is to see that laws or government’s actions are favorable to their interests.
Pressure groups are defined by three key features:
• They seek to exert influence from outside, rather than to win or exercise government power. Pressure groups do not make policy decisions, but rather try to influence those who do (the policy-makers). In that sense, they are ‘external’ to government.
• They typically have a narrow issue focus. In some cases, they may focus on a single issue (for instance opposing a planned road development).
• Their members are united by either a shared belief in a particular cause or a common set of interests. People with different ideological and party preferences may thus work happily together as members of the same pressure group.
These groups influence both public policy as well as administration. They also contribute towards determination of political structure of society and the form of government. Any social group which seeks to influence the behaviour of any political officer, both administrative as well as legislative, without attempting to gain formal control of the government can be called a pressure group.
Types of Pressure Group
Although they can be distinguished in a variety of ways (including local/national/transnational groups and temporary/permanent groups) the most common distinctions are between:
1. Interest and Cause Groups
Interest groups (sometimes called ‘sectional’, ‘protective’ or ‘functional’ groups) are groups that represent a particular section of society: workers, employers, consumers, an ethnic or religious group, and so on.
Interest groups have the following features:
a. They are concerned to protect or advance the interests of their members
b. Membership is limited to people in a particular occupation, career or economic position
c. Members are motivated by material self-interest
Trade unions, business corporations, trade associations and professional bodies are the prime examples of this type of group. They are called ‘sectional’ groups because they represent a particular section of the population.
Cause groups activities range from charity activities, poverty reduction, education and the environment, to human rights, international development and peace. Cause groups have the following features:
a. They seek to advance particular ideals or principle
b. Membership is open to all
c. Members are motivated by moral or altruistic concerns (the betterment of others)
Specific examples of cause groups include the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), Amnesty International, etc.
2. Insiders and outsiders
Insider groups are groups that are consulted on a regular basis by government. They operate ‘inside’ the decision-making process, not outside. Their degree, regularity and level of consultation varies, of course. ‘Ultra-insider’ groups are regularly consulted at ministerial or senior official level within the executive. They may also sit on government policy committees and agencies and have links to parliamentary select committees.
Outsider groups, by contrast, have no special links to government. They are kept, or choose to remain, at arm’s length from government. They therefore try to exert influence indirectly via the mass media or through public opinion campaigns.
Pressure groups can be seen as providing an additional form of representation within the political system and an additional channel of political communication.
Pressure Groups promote Democracy
Pressure groups have played a significant role in those developing countries which have a more stable government and political system or which have adopted democracy as its system. The role of pressure groups in a developing countries with a stable political system are listed out in the following :
• They balance the national and particular interests. They constitute links of communication between the citizens and the state.
• They render a necessary service by making much valuable data available to governmental agencies and to the public in general. They supply necessary information and accurate statistic to policy-makers. With the help of the data supplied by the pressure groups, the pressure groups can support the necessary arguments. Thus, from a mass of conflicting information and views, the truth can always be discerned.
• A democracy which permits its citizens to express their varying interest and desires thereby gain a sort of ‘Build In’ protection against the emergence of a single, dominant social force. Businessmen, workers, farmers, social groups, women and religious groups- all seek to advance their own interests, but they are forced to compete with one another. The inevitable result is that they balance each other’s demands and this countervailing tendency protects the society against the threat that an individual group will come to wield total power.
• Pressure groups keep democracy alive during the interval and during the elections, and constitute a barrier against inter-regnums. They supplement the party system and the formal instruments of government by serving as spokesman of special interests within society.
• Pressure Groups have become a legislature behind a legislature. By their zeal and enthusiasm, their expertise knowledge and specialised skills, they influenced law-making on the floor of the legislatures.
• The powers and functions of the government are increasing day by day. The theory of the welfare state and the method of planned development are the new phenomenon which have led to growth of government power. Socialism and Positivism have increased them considerably and today we need ‘Groups’ as a shield against the sword wielded by the government.