Pressure Groups

  • Created by: Q_
  • Created on: 16-04-19 12:41

Pressure Groups

Pressure groups and democracy: pluralism

A pressure group is most accurateyl described as an organsied, often single-issue group with a membership that shares common interests or aims. 

Pressure groups do not tend to field candidates for election, but instead seek to influence government policy or legislation. 

Other groups may seek to promote a particular cause or issue (e.g. Friends of teh Earth and environmental issues). 

The very existence of pressure groups is seen by many as a vita lfeature of a tolerant democracy.

1 of 36

The main functions of pressure groups

  • Encouraging public participation in the political arena by offering legitimate and effective opportunities to challenge government activity. 
  • Providing essential channels of communication between the government and the governed.
  • Protecting minority rights, e.g. Shlter and the homeless.
  • Providing expert information to the government, e.g. the Automobile Association on transport issues.
  • Mobilising public support for certain issues that may include the use of direct action tactics, e.g. the 2010 student protests again st the rise in tuition fees. 
2 of 36

What is pluralism?

Pluralism is a theory of political interaction that provides a basis for understanding how governments and groups interact in the decision-making process.

Pluralist theories emphasise that decision-making power is widely and evenly spread across society, and that many different groups and organisation - including charities, trade unions, faiths and privat businesses - challenge and debate with each other in a healthy and positive way, thereby strengthening the democratic process. 

Pluralists view the existence of pressure groups as both positive and indispensable, and stress a number of features within democracies. 

3 of 36

What is pluralism?

  • With the many countervailing influences and pressures within pluralist societies, no single group can achieve dominance. Pluralism stands in opposition to theories stressing that decision-making power is concentrated in the hands of a small few. 
  • While resources vary from one group to another, the free and wide access to a growing membership and the accumulation of wealth through donations, means that groups have fair opportunities to further their aims and exert influence. 
  • By joining together to form groups, citizens are represented as far more effectively than they would be on their own. 

Pluralist societies are ones in which participation in political life is not just reserved to voting in elections. Instead, decisions are competed over by different groups that aim to negotiate with and persuade those in power - good policy is the result of social pressure. 

It is the responsibility of the government to mediate between groups and ensure that all appropriate views and parts of society are accounted for. 

4 of 36

Is the UK a 'pluralist democracy'?

While the UK exhibits of a pluralist democracy, it would be difficult to argue that it satisfies the criteria entirely. 

Four ways that the UK could be considered to be a pluralist democracy are: 

  • Important decisions that affect citizens' lives are made on multiple levels - local, regional and national.
  • Elections are held regularly and see a wide range of parties competing for elected office. Elections themselves are conducted under secret ballot with universal suffrage.
  • A huge range of prressure groups exist, representing a diverse array of causes and interests.
  • Rights and liberties - especially in the context of free speech, assembly and association and the right to protest - are protected under the rule of law. 
5 of 36

Is the UK a 'pluralist democracy'?

Four ways that the UK does not entirely satisfy the criteria of pluralist democracy are: 

  • UK-wide elections are carried out under the majoritarian system of the FPTP, meaning that votes to seats ratios are distorted. Many voting groups within society are under-represented or not represented at all within the UK Parliament. 
  • Parliament, with its unelected second chamber, uneven relationships between government branches, and a lack of separation of powers that allows the executive to dominate the legislature, provides grounds for significant criticism. 
  • Political engagement is often characterised by apathy and disillusionment - turnout at elections is low, as is the membership of the political parties that vie for power. 
  • The UK lacks a codified constitution to limit government, and to set out and protect rights and liberties. 

Exam tip: make sure you understand the term 'pluralist democracy' and the conditions for it to exist. 

6 of 36

Do pressure groups promote democracy?

In order to analyse and evaluate whether pressure groups help or hinder the democratic process, a contextual definition of 'democracy' is important to measure pressure groups activity against it.

Within the context of pressure groups, a 'pluralist democracy' might be considered to include: 

  • A well-educated citizenry, empowered to participate in the shaping of policy in important areas.
  • A wide dispersal of power among healthy pressuring groups in a political system that is not dominated by elites.
  • A responsive government that respects the rights of citizens to have their say within the democratic principles of the state. 
7 of 36

Do pressure groups promote democracy?

Factors which suggest that pressure groups promote democracy

Enhancing and supplementing representation 

Pressure groups can 'bridge the gap' by representing citizens between formal but less frequent democratic opportunities, such as elections.

In almost every area of our lives, there are groups working to secure favourable legislation, to avoid unfavourable legislation, to highlight concerns or to engage the wider public. 

8 of 36

Do pressure groups promote democracy?

Factors which suggest that pressure groups promote democracy

Encouraging participation 

One of the primary collective functions of pressure groups is to engage citizens in a way that ensures that governments do not become dictatorial. 

An active and well-informed citizenry is the best way to prevent the excessive accumulation of power in the hands of a governing elite, and to ensure that decision makers remain responsive and accountable.

With party membership falling and declining turnout at elections, pressure groups have increasingly plugged the 'democratic deficit'. 

Their focus on the narrow range of issues and their encouragement for individuals to participate actively in furthering causes or raising awareness has attracted many individuals - especially young people - otherwise disillusioned with mainstream politics. 

9 of 36

Do pressure groups promote democracy?

Factors which suggest that pressure groups promote democracy

Education and expertise

The educative value of pressure groups for the democratic process is twofold. 

Pressure groups provide a significant amount of information to the public, contributing towards a better-informed and better-educated electorate. 

Pressure groups are autonomous of government so they provide important independent messages to promote political debates and discussion. 

Pressure groups also have expert knowledge that they provide to the government. 

10 of 36

Do pressure groups promote democracy?

Factors which suggest that pressure groups promote democracy

Protecting minorites 

Pressure groups help to ensure that all groups within society - especially the disabled, children or animals - are protected and afforded equal status and rights. 

Without pressure groups performing this vital democratic function, the 19th century liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill's warning of the tyranny of the majority could come true.

Political parties will inevitably seek majority support, ignoring the interests of many minorities. It is pressure groups that perform the vital function of ensuring that party rule does not become tyranny. 

11 of 36

Do pressure groups promote democracy?

Undemocratic features of pressure groups 

Inequality of influence 

One of the key criticisms is that pressure groups do not operate within a pluralist democracy, and instead, they serve to entrench existing divisions  and allow the powerful to accumulate even more power. 

Some groups wield disproportionate power. 

This may be down to the strategically important position that some groups hold within society (e.g. doctors or farmers) or their wealth or privileged links with the decision makers.

Conversely, other groups may experience a disproportionately lower level of influence (e.g. the unemployed, the prisoners, the homeless) meaning that far from promoting democracy, pressure groups undermine it. 

12 of 36

Do pressure groups promote democracy?

Undemocratic features of pressure groups 

Inequality of resources 

Pressure groups that are more wealthy are favoured, and groups that represent large sectional interests have the wealth to sustain a permanent workforce and to mount impressive campaigns. 

13 of 36

Do pressure groups promote democracy?

Undemocratic features of pressure groups 

Internal democracy of pressure groups 

Unlike parties, most pressure groups are not transparent, accountable organisation: their leaders are rarely elected and are not typically publicly accountable.

There is a growing trend for groups to be run by highly paid 'proefessionals' with personal career objectives that may not align with those of the group's membership. 

For example, the BMA (British Medical Association) was forced to cancel strike plabs over junior doctors' contracts after its members highlighted a concern for patient safety. 

14 of 36

Do pressure groups promote democracy?

Undemocratic features of pressure groups 

Undermining the democratic process

Much of the effective pressure group activity goes on 'behind closed doors', making objective scrutiny of the process of policy formulation and decision making very difficult. 

There has been a significant growth in direct action tactics - civil disobedience, blockades or media stunts - that can inconvenience and undermine the constitutional framework of the state. 

Taking account of all opinions in an increasingly fragmented or 'hyper-pluralist' state can be a costly and inefficient environment in which to create sensible policies. 

15 of 36

Other influences on government and Parliament

Think tanks 

It is estimated that 7,000 think tanks currently exist worldwide.

Think-tanks are usually non-profit or charitable organisations whose objectives are to research areas of particular interest - usually in political, economic, military, social or cultural spheres - and advocate on behalf of supportive individuals, groups and organisations. 

The most significant think tanks in the UK tend to exist as public policy institutes, operating independently of government, seeking to shape policy according to their own political perspectives. 

16 of 36

Other influences on government and Parliament


Lobbying can occur on an individual or group level, taking the 'traditional' form of letters written to elected representatives or visits to the Palace of Westminster. Most lobbying is now carried out in a professional capacity through lobby firms. 

Lobby firms employ well-connected individuals - those currently serving as MPs and peers, or ex-MPs, local authoritty councillors and public affairs experts - to use their contacts with decision makers to raise issues on behalf of fee-paying clients. For some groups, the routine use of lobby firms can ensure that their issues remain on the political agenda. 

17 of 36

Other influences on government and Parliament


The practice of lobbying has long prompted concerns - in particular the direct and luccrative route that some MPs take into lobbying immediately after leaaving public office. 

The House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee published a 2009 report entitled 'Lobbying: Access and Influence in Whitehall' which attmepted to balance the legitimacy of lobbying in a democratic country with the potentially corrupting effect of a lack of effective regulation. 

The industry remained largely self-regulated until recently, but the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Act which came into force in 2015 requires that all professional lobbyists are listed on the register of consultant lobbyists. 

18 of 36

Other influences on government and Parliament


Businesses with significant investment in the UK and large UK-based workforces can have substantial influence over policy and legislation.

Supermarket chains such as Tesco (519,000 employees) and Sainsbury's (150,000 employees), pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline (worth over £65 billion) and AstraZeneca (worth over £50 billion) are involved in formulating policies relating to business regulation, enterprise initiatives and taxation.

Major companies all have expert policy units that scrutinise favourable or unfavourable legislation, and representatives who will meet frequently with government officials. 

Businesses or organisations that organise themselves into coherent 'federations', united for the purposes of furthering their collective interests, can have a particularly significant influence. 

19 of 36

Other influences on government and Parliament


Until recently, pressure groups' media tactics tended to revolve around whole-page advertisements in the national press or the production of television advertisements.  

The expense of a coordinated 'traditional' media campaign usually meant that only well-supported or well-established groups could engage. For example, in 2005 the NSPCC spent £3 million on television advertsing for its hard-hitting 'Full Stop' campaign to raise awareness of violence against children.

Most established charities still spend significant sums on maintaining or advancing their profile through multi-media channels. In 2015 it was revealed that Save the Children paid over 700,000 in 2014 to a single advertising agency to promote its image and campaign.

20 of 36

Other influences on government and Parliament


The rise of alternative media platorms, social networking sites and smartphones have opened up the media to groups big and small. Creative and imaginative campaigns are communicated at little cost. 

Groups encouraging anti-discrimination, pro-immigration, celebrating diversity or campaigning for justice or gender equality have used new media platforms to engage young, politically conscious tech-savvy supporters. 

21 of 36

Typologies of pressure groups

Classification by aims 

Sectional groups 

Sectional groups seek to advance the common interests of a particular section of society, e.g. nurses, transport workers, ethnic groups or policemen. They are sometimes criticised for being self-interested - motivated by the economic advancement of their members rather than for the benefit of the wider community. 

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) is a good example of a sectional group. It's a federation of trade unions in England and Wales, representing over 50 trade unions with a combined total of nearly 6 million members. 

It was founded in 1868 and continues to campaign for trade union aims and values. In recent years it has influenced the pay and conditions of young workers and in September 2016, the TUC forced Sports direct to undergo an independent review into its treatment of workers. 

22 of 36

Typologies of pressure groups

Cause groups 

Cause groups seek to promote a specific set of objectives, not necessarily of direct or immediate benefit to their members. 

Also referred to as 'issue' groups, they may have a specific cause in mind, or be more general in focus, such as reducing poverty or advancing human rights. 

A well-established cause group is Friends of the Earth, an organisation that has sought to find solutions to environmental problems for over 40 years. 

It has successfully campaigned to protect conservation areas, to promote sustainability and recycling, and to highlight significant issues such as the decline in the bee population, flood defences and air pollution. 

23 of 36

Typologies of pressure groups

Problems with the 'sectional or cause' typology 

  • Many sectional groups style themselves as cause groups in order to promote the wider, moral benefits of their interests. The National Union of Teachers campaigns for educational values in general, while seeking to improve the economic interests of its members. 
  • Many groups now have sectional and cause characteristics. Shelter may not directly enhance the lives of people who have homes, but living in a society which cares for homeless people is a general benefit.
24 of 36

Typologies of pressure groups

Classification by status

Insider groups 

Insider groups have significant access to decision makers and core insiders (e.g. the BMA) who play a key role in formulating policy. 

Other groups range from specialist insiders who play a major role in specific areas (e.g. the Automobile Association), to peripheral insiders who feature occasionally, to groups who are effectively part of the government (e.g. the Commission for Racial Equality). 

Some pressure groups are so close to decision makers that they have permanent seats on government policy committees and agencies, findoing themselves at the centre of the decision-making process. 

The National Farmer's Union is a typical example. It is advantageous to government that all agricultural policy should be considered by representatives of the farming community at an early stage, as they will have to conform to these policies. 

25 of 36

Typologies of pressure groups

Outsider groups 

Outsider groups range from ideological outsiders, who deliberately position themselves outside mainstream politics (e.g. Greenpeace or Amnesty International), to outsiders by necessity whose chosen methods mean they will never be actively consulted (e.g. Fathers4Justice). 

Outsider groups also feature 'potential' or 'aspiring' insiders, who might be awaiting a more favourable political climate. 

26 of 36

Typologies of pressure groups

Problems with the 'insider or outsider typology' 

  • Some studies estimate that 90% of groups have some level of 'inside success', since government bodies consult with a wide range of groups.
  • Most outsider groups were seen as having to resort to outsider tactics after failing to achieve insider status, but a large number of high-profile groups (e.g. Friends of the Earth) have advanced their causes without insider status. 
27 of 36

Typologies of pressure groups

Problems with the 'insider or outsider typology' 

A key development in pressure group activity, especially since the 1980s, has been the growth of groups that defy classification (whether by aims or status) by spanning social and economic divides in support of large-scale social movements or causes.

They have no formal membership and often arise rapidly or spontaneously around issues such as poverty, anti-capitalism, environmental or narrow social issues. 

Their methods are more likely to include direct action (protests, violence, civil disobedience), bypassing conventional methods and adopting confrontational tactics. 

Examples include: 

  • anti-Iraq war demonstrations in 2003
  • anti-poverty Live8 concerts and rallies in 2005
  • university tuition fees protest in 2010
  • protest against welfare cuts in 2016
28 of 36

Methods used by pressure groups

The methods used by pressure groups to achieve their aims vary and depend largely upon the group's objectives and their status with regard to key decision-makers.

Groups that aim to cultivate even moderate relationships with decision-makers will have to act within the law and within the constitutional framework of the state.

It is worth remembering that many group's objectives are local - possibly focusing on planning issues or changes in the provision of local services, and do not require any level of engagement with central government. 

29 of 36

Identifying access points to exert pressure

For groups with objectives that affect large numbers of people, or that have a national or international impact, access points to decision makers on a local, national and supranational scale are required. 

Pressure groups are confronted with a wide and growing range of access points - governments and elected officials are increasingly keen to appear consultative. 

Judging which ones are likely to be the most available and the most effective are key.

  • Many pressure groups identify ministers and senior civil servants in the core executive as the main source of government policy. Groups with insider status are more likely to be consulted on government policy if they are sources of valuable and expert information and can provide a relaible and responsible sounding board for government proposals. Groups such as the BMA are consulted frequently by the Departmenet of Health and the Treasury respectively. 
  • Groups may supplement their inside access by lobbying MPs and peers within Parliament. Many groups submit written evidence to select committees or urge supportive MPs to introduce Private Members' Bills. 
30 of 36

Identifying access points to exert pressure

  • Devolution has brought new tiers of decision making to a regional level. For example, ASH Scotland was successful in banning smoking in public places in Scotland a year before the rest of the UK. Additionaly, elected mayors have bought greater power to cities - ukfeminista lobbied the London mayor's office to make public transport in the capital safer for women. 
  • The dominance of parties within the UK's parliamentary system means that it is sensible for groups to aim to influence party policy. Many groups contribute to party funds - especially trade unions and the Labour Party - and shaping party policy in the form of manifesto commitments is a key way for many pressure groups to achieve success. 
31 of 36

Identifying access points to exert pressure

  • Influencing the government indirectly by demonstrating wide public support for a cause is a classic attention-grabbing tactic. Protests and demonstrations can worry governments, and coordinated campaigns to raise awareness through well-known media channels can ensure that officials incorporate ideas within policies, even if this is not admitted openly.
  • Direct action is a time-honoured tactic, that in the age of rapid communication, has become a much more popular and mainstream way of exerting pressure. Whether through court cases, civil disobedience, flash mobs, publicity stunts, trending hashtags or conventional demonstrations, many pressure groups use some form of direct action tactics.
32 of 36

Factors likely to affect PI of different groups

Measures of success vary enormously from one pressure group to another.

However, there are some clearly identifiable factors which affect the chance of success: 

  • Aims and philosophy - if goals are acievable and decision makers are sympathetic. 
  • Status - while there are no guarantees that insider groups will enjoy more success than outsiders, access to decision makers is beneficial. 
  • Expertise - credible, specialist knowledge can be vital to government decision making.
  • Wealth - money can fund extensive campaigns and 'buy influence' with political parties. 
  • Size - groups with large numbers of potential voters are difficult to ignore. 
  • Organisation and leadership - effective and coordinated media and public awareness campaigns.
  • Other factors - celebrity endorsement, the presence of opposition groups and the timing of issues can all play a part in achieving success. 
33 of 36

Factors likely to affect the political influence o

Expert and engaged staff - along with an alignment of the sympathies of the government - are the common factor in the following successful groups: 

  • In the 1990s a little-known group called Liberty began its rise to significance through strong connections with the Labour leadership. The group succeeded notably in pushing human rights legislation to the top of the political agenda.
  • In the 2000s, Policy Exchange (created in 2002) was regarded as the then prime minister David Cameron's 'favourite think tank', influencing ministers, academics and journalists alike. 
  • In the 2010s, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and Reform - two leading pressure groups for campaigning for public service reform and social responsibility - are at the centre of government social and economic polucy formation. 
34 of 36

Links with political parties

How do pressure groups differ from political parties? 

  • Pressure groups and parties both seek to educate the public about significant issues, providing opposing perspectives that formulate different opinions. 
  • Pressure groups are typically formed for one reason and may be short-term, whereas parties are multi-issued, and tend to last a long period of time and attempt to appeal to as wide a range of potential voters as possible. 
35 of 36

Links with political parties

How do pressure groups work through political parties? 

Some pressure groups are recognised as being close to one of the main parties - for example, the Confederation of British Industry has been known to work closely with the Conservatives, while the trade unions are historically linked to the Labour Party. 

This kind of close association can ensure that the group has a hand when policies are being shaped. Prior to elections, the most successful groups are able to get their issues onto the various parties' manifestos. 

36 of 36


No comments have yet been made

Similar Government & Politics resources:

See all Government & Politics resources »See all UK pressure groups and protest movements resources »