Pressure Groups

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nature of pressure groups

  • an association of people who share specific political goals 
  • seek either to defend or further the interests of a particular section of society 
  • do not seek gov power, but merely influence the pol system
  • seek to mobilise as wide a level of support as pos to further their goals
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  • represent a section of society 
  • only interested in goals of the group 
  • E.g. National Union of Students , Royal College of Nurses 


  • groups concerned with cause/issue 
  • open to all members of scoiety 
  • believe their cause will benefit community 
  • E.g. Friends of the Earth, Unlock Democracy
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groups that have special connections w/parliament and direct access to decision makers w/ the following characteristics:

  • regularly consulted by parliamentary committees
  • sometimes have reps sitting on policy/advisory committees 
  • concerned w/ Europe & have directs access to EU Commission & EU parl
  • regional groups have access to devolved admins
  • local pressure groups have access to local authorities 
  • E.G. National Union of Farmers, RSPCA, NSPCC
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do not have direct access to gov or parliament, or decision makers because they choose to maintain their indep or, decision makers wish not to be associated w/them:

  • seek to mobilise public support
  • use direct action such as street demonstrations 
  • seek use of media campaigns 
  • increasingly use interenet & social networks 
  • use petitions, often online 
  • E.G. Greenpeace, Plane Stupid, Exit
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difference between PG's & parties

  • parties actively seek office/ power; PGs do not
  • parties must develop policies across a range of issues; PGs have narrow goals 
  • parties have to make themselves accountable; PGs do not
  • parties have formal organisation; PGs loosely organised 

can be unclear as:

  • PGs sometimes put candidates up for election to publicise goals
  • PGs develop a wide range of policies, trade unions are an example
  • PGs transform themselves into parites - Green Party & UKIP
  • some PGs closely associated w/parties - trade unions & labour, Countryside Alliance & Tories 
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what is pluralism?

a concept & description of a society or pol system:

  • a variety of ideas and groups can flourish 
  • can mean power within a pol system is widely dispersed and not concentrated in a few hands
  • varitey of beliefs, cultures & lifestyles and ethnic groups can exist together and are broadly tolerated
  • recognises the right of different groups to have influence & to recieve equal treatment
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what is elitism?

opposite of pluralism, mostly described as distribution of power within a pol system or society:

  • concentration of pol, social or economic power within a few hands
  • can describe a pol system within which a small no of indivds or bodies hold most of avaliable power
  • implies that most groups in society are denied power of influence 
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pluralism, elitism & pressure groups

PGs enhance pluralism in these respects:

  • disperse power and influence v.widely 
  • ensure many groups exert pol influence 
  • help to protect the interests of groups in society 
  • balance power of centralised gov 

PGs can be associated w/ elitism in these senses:

  • some powerful, wealthy, influential PGs may concentrate power in few hands
  • influential insider groups may serve to concentrate more power in gov hands
  • some PGs may be led by unaccountable elites
  • some groups may hold a disproportionate amount of power 
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why are PGs becoming more important?

  • party membership in decline, PGs replace this activity 
  • electorate is now better informed & more able to become involved in pol issues 
  • interenet & new social media have made it practicle to mount campaigns & initiate new associations 
  • number of PGs & their membership have sig increased 
  • society more pluralistic and fragmented into groups which have special interests 
  • pol system now more accessible to group activity, more points of access and MP's more sensitive to public opinion 
  • growing affluence means pop have more interests & thus make more demands on pol system 
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main methods used by PGs

  • lobbying ministers: insiders feel they can influence decisions and policy - Confederation of British Industry 
  • sitting on advisory & policy committees in gov: can supply specialist info & advice - BMA
  • lobbying EU institutions: most of their concerns are under juridiction of EU - National Farmers' Union 
  • lobbying local councilors and officers: concerns are local in nature - local conservation groups
  • organising mass public demonstrations: widespread support but are outsiders: stop Iraq war
  • media campaigns: celebrity involvement - Joanna Lumley Justice for Ghurkas
  • civil disobedience: outsiders need to attract publicity - Greenpeace
  • internet campaigns: issues that appeal to the young - Friends of the Earth
  • action through the law courts: rights of members are threatened - trade unions 
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why are some PGs more successful?

  • Resources: finiancial & organisational, giving a group the ability & people to mount a campaign - Countryside Alliance organised demonstrations in LDN
  • Insider Statues: being established in gov circles & well trusted - Action on Smoking & Health
  • Tactics: groups may find a good formula for influencing gov and/or public support - Save England's Forests 
  • Sharing the Same Agenda as Gov: helps when campaining for change - Confed of British Industry 
  • Lack of Opposition: Make Poverty History 
  • Favourable Circumstances: Action on Smoking & Health, helped by reductions in cases of lung cancer following anti-smoking legislation
  • Celeb Involvement: Joanna Lumley & Justice for Ghurka's
  • Strategic Position: British Bankers' Association 
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ways in which PGs enhance democracy

  • often rep groups and causes that may have been ingnored by pol parties 
  • help to disperse power more widely, preventing dangerous concentrations of power 
  • help to educate & inform about sig issues 
  • help governing process by providing informed advice
  • act as a control mechanism against over-mighty gov
  • provide ways people can participate in pol at a time when traditional forms are in decline 
  • provide an outlet for public grievances 'tension release'
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ways in which PGs damage democracy

  • undermine authority of elected officials & parliament 
  • rep politics of 'self-interest' and present public w/biased or false info
  • if they are too powerful, can created 'hyper-pluralism' which can hold up process of gov by being too obstructive
  • PGs lack elective legitimacy and are no democratically accountable
  • those that engage in civil disobedience threaten order in society & subvert democ
  • some wealth, influential PGs have more influence than justified
  • leadership of elitist groups may not reflect accurately the views of their membership 
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