Pressure Groups

AS Edexcel politics, Pressure groups, last minute!

Definition of Pressure Groups

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Definintion of Pressure Groups

Organised group of people aiming to influence policies or actions of government

  • Do not try to win power
  • Narrow issue focus
  • members united by shared belief in a cause or interest
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Similarities between Pressure Groups and Political

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Similarities between Pressure Groups and Political

  • Many small parties have a narrow issue focus - e.g. BNP focuses on issues of race and immigration
  • Some pressure groups use elections to gain publicity with no intention of winning (though technically those that compete for power are parties)
  • Parties and pressure groups may both form part of larger social movements, e.g. green movement inludes the Green Party and also a wide range of environmental pressure groups.
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Distinction between parties and PG's

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Distinction between parties and PG's

  • Pressure groups seek to exert influence
  • parties seek to win power
  • Pressure groups have a narrow issue focus
  • parties have a broad issue focus
  • pressure groups have shared interests/common causes
  • parties have shared preferences
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Distinction between Interest and Cause groups

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Distinction between interest and cause groups


  • represent a particular section of society
  • concerned to protect or advance the interests of their members
  • membership limited to people in a particular occupation, career or economic position
  • members are motivated by material self interest
  • E.G. National Union of Teachers (NUT), BMA


  • based on shared attitudes or values rather than common interests of members
  • membership open to all
  • motivated by moral or altruistic concerns
  • E.G. RSPB, Amnesty International
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Reasons for blurring in distinctions between Secti

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Reasons for blurring in distinctions between Secti

  • Some pressure groups have both sectional and promotional characteristics
    In a sense, all pressure groups have sectional concerns based on the interests of their professional staff and the property and any other capital they own
  • A single pressure group may  include members with both sectional and promotional motivatins
    e.g. campaign against a third runway at heathrow airport, protesters included both those concerned with sectional issues such as demolition of homes and school and promotional concerns such as climate change and economical sustainability
  • Some pressure groups try to mask sectional motivations by adopting the language and arguments of a promotional group
    Moral and altruistic concerns will often carry greater weigh with the general public than expressions of self-interest. e.g. BMA: advance or protest the interests of doctors but spokespeople invariably talk in terms of public health, patients' welfare and the NHS 
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Insider/outsider pressure groups

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Insider/outsider pressure groups

Insider Groups - P.G’s that operate within the political system through contacts with ministers, M.P’s, peers and official committees. They are regularly consulted by the government.

E.G. BMA, National Farmer's Union

Outsider Groups - P.G with no special links with the government but seeks to influence decision makers by mobilising public opinion. Often this is done through direct action.

E.G. Animal Liberation Front, Fathers4Justice

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Problems with Distinctions between insider and out

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Problems with Distinctions between insider and out

  • Many groups employ both insider and outsider tactics
    e.g. high profile insider groups recognize the ability to mount public opinion and media campaigns strengthens their hands when it comes to bargaining with govt. 
  • Insider/outsider status changes over time
    some groups are more 'inside' than others in terms of the level and regularity of their contacts with government. Outsider groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have some degree of insider status. 
  • Insider status is more a matter of degree than a simple fact 
    Most clearly upon election of new govts. 
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Functions of PG's

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Functions of PG's

provide a mouthpiece for groups and interests not adequately represented through the electoral process or by parties, concerned with specific rather than general.
BUT low level of internal democracy, express views of leaders rather than members?, influence on govt. does not always reflect membership size or popular support.

Political Participation
40-50% of UK citizens belong to at least one voluntary organisation, 20% 2 or more. Attractive methods of participation to young people e.g. petitions, marches, demonstrations
BUT group membership does not always involve participation. Tendency for modern groups to become 'chequebook groups' e.g. National Trust/Friends of the Earth

Many pressure groups operate largely through their ability to communicate with the  

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Functions of PG's

public and raise political awareness. Many carry out research, maintain websites, use high profile academics/celebrities to get views across 
BUT PG's as biased and subjective as parties, few checks or constraints on what a pressure group spokesperson may say.

Policy Formulation
Though not policy makers, many participate in the policy making process. Vital source of information and advice to govt. Many consulted in process of formulating policy. 
BUT only a small portion of privelaged insider groups are involved in this
many have argued that as not publicly elected/accountable, this should not happen.

Policy Implementation
NFU works with Department for Rural Affairs in implementing policies related to disease control and animal welfare. Further blurs distinction between groups and government. Also clear leverage when influencing policy. 
BUT criticized for being over-close to govt. and endangering independence, unfair political leverage in influencing policy decisions. 

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How do Pressure Groups exert influence?

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How do pressure groups exert influence?

Ministers and civil servants
work at heart of 'core executive', where power lies. Many aspire to insider status. Govts consult groups because:

  • specialized knowledge/advice to form policy
  • cooperation of important groups
  • need to gauge reaction of affected groups to proposed policies or govt measures

E.g. BMA, dept. of health 

less achieved than by influencing executive, changing can be made to details of legislation or profile of political issue.  through influence on private members bills, parliamentary questions.
Parliamentary lobbying become more popular due to more independently minded backbenchers, departmental select committees, growing use of professional lobbyists and political consultants, HoL more assertive 

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How do pressure groups exert influence?

Political Parties
UK system of Party government. Funding and Donations. Trade unions/Labour, provided bulk of labour's funding/controlled votes at party conference.However trade union contributions to Labour have declined in part two decades. Parties now have to reveal where funding comes from.

Public Opinion
adopted by outsider/high profile insider. Influence govt. indirectly by pushing issues up the political agenda. demonstrating both strength of commitment/level of public support for particular cause. Petitions, marches, demonstrations. Media attention gained by public campaigning.

Direct Action
Strikes, blockades, boycotts. May be violent or non-violent. E.G. SHAC, campaigned from 1999 onwards to stop animal testing at HLS in Cambridge, staff working have been subject to routine harrassment/intimidation, property damaged etc. 

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Factors affecting PG power

financial and economic power, 
possess knowledge and expertise essential to formulation of economic, industrial and trade policies, financial strength to employ professional lobbyists and public relations consultants, and to make donations to parties, often high profile and media access.

Large groups can claim to represent public opinion (RSPB), more members = more subscriptions and donations, tend to be wealthy groups also, allows groups to organise political campaigns and protests.
HOWEVER small groups can exert influence through policy expertise and knowledge, e.g. Howard League 

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