Pressure groups

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A pressure group is an organised interest group in which members share and actively pursue common views and objectives to influence government. Pressure groups are therefore quite distinct from political parties. 

Pressure groups vary considerably in terms of size, wealth and influence. Pressure groups in the USA operate at all levels of government - federal, state and local - and seek to bring their influence to bear on all three branches of government - the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. 

Types of Pressure Groups

  • Business/trade
    • American Business Conference
    • National Association of Manufacturers
    • National Auto-mobile dealers Association
  • Agriculture
    • American Farm Bureau Federation
    • National Farmers' Union
    • Associated Milk Producers Inc.
  • Unions
    • American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO)
    • Untied Auto Workers
  • Professional
    • American Medical Association
    • National Education Association
    • American Bar Association
  • Single Issue
    • Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
    • National Rifle Association (NRA)
    • National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League
  • Ideological
    • American Conservative Union
    • People for the American Way
    • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
  • Group rights
    • National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP)
    • National Organisation for Women (NOW)
    • American Association of Retired Persons
  • Public interest
    • Common Cause
    • Friends of the Earth

Functions of Pressure Groups

  • Representation
    • They represent the interests of various groups in society. 
  • Citizen participation
    • They increase the opportunities for ordinary citizens to participate in the decision-making process between elections.
  • Public education
    • They attempt to educate public opinion, warning them of dangers if issues are not addressed. This can be seen as being done by pressure groups operating in such issue areas as the environment and gun control. 
  • Agenda building
    • They attempt to influence the agendas of political parties, legislators and bureaucracies to give prominence and priority to their interests. They will attempt to bring together different parts of American society - For example business groups, religious groups, state governments, professional organisations - to work together to achieve a common interest. 
  • Programme monitoring
    • They will scrutinise and hold government to account in the implementation of policies to try to ensure that promises are fulfilled, policies are actually 'delivered' and regulations are enforced.

Reasons for joining Pressure Groups

  • Material Benefits
    • People join pressure groups because they think that either they personally, or society as a whole, will gain some material benefit as a result. Material benefits range from the personal ones a member gains from joining a group to the policy changes it offers.
  • Purposive Benefits
    • People join pressure groups to be part of a movement or a cause to try to make society, or even the world, a better place. Membership of this kind has a certain 'feel good' factor about it for those joining.
  • Solidarity Benefits
    • People join pressure groups to interact with line-minded people, taking part in group activities.

Methods used by Pressure Groups

  • Electioneering and endorsement 
    • Campaign finance reform has meant that significant changes have taken place in the electioneering and fundraising roles of pressure groups. The 1970s reforms encouraged the setting up of Political Action Committees (PACs) - organisations whose purpose is…





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