Characteristics and Functions of Pressure Groups
A Pressure Group can be defined as an organized group that seeks to influence government policies. Pressure groups are not political parties and they do not seek political office. However, they play important roles in the society. They act as a link between the people and the government. They are channels of communications and for the transmission of ideas from the people to the government and vice versa. Through the pressure groups, the government is able to gauge public reaction to their policies.
Secondly, pressure groups try to influence the government so that the government may act in line with the ideas of the group. They also educate and organise their members on the issues affecting them so that this can be made known to the government.
The functions of pressure groups in the political system include the following.
- Interest articulation
- Link between government and the people
- Assisting in a execution of government programs
- Legitimization of government
- Influence on public opinion
- Supply of information on public affairs
- Criticism of government policies
- Representation of diverse interests
- Provision of specialised data
#1 – Interest Articulation
Pressure groups, like political parties, articulate the interests of their members. They collate and present the demands of their group to government and other concerned organisations.
#2 – Link Between Government and the People
Another functions of pressure groups is that they serve as a bridge between the government and the people. Normally, pressure groups emerged in response to the increase in “distance” between those who govern and those who are governed. In performing this function, pressure group provides a means by which its officers meet, consult and present their demands to government officials. Government officials also interact with pressure groups in order to ease the implementation of public policies. For example, by consulting with external bodies potentially affected by a new policy, civil servants can learn a great deal about the likely effects of a policy. In addition, public administrators can gain useful information from pressure groups, which may not be available to the government.
#3 – Assisting in Execution of Government Programmes
Pressure groups sometimes assist the government in carrying out some of its functions. In some cases, the government delegates responsibility to pressure groups in areas where the groups are most competent. No government can operate without the assistance of pressure groups. It is unthinkable, for instance, that any matter concerning AIDS and HIV will be finalized out without input from the medical community and paramedical personnel and important advocacy groups working to reduce the incidence of this diseases.
It has to be admitted, nevertheless, that the use of pressure groups officials (who are not elected by the people) in the execution of government policies and programmes may pose considerable danger for the principles of democratic representation.
#4 – Legitimization of Government
Although pressure groups are unelected bodies, they help to legitimize governments. They give support to governments and make them acceptable to the people. That is, they constitute a continuous mandate to government and serves as intermediary between the government and the people in-between elections.
#5 – Influence on Public Opinion
Pressure groups help to mould public opinion in both liberal democratic and socialist states in a direction that suits the interest of its members.
#6 – Supply of Information on Public Affairs
Pressure groups usually have a reservoir of information on matters affecting their interests. They provide government with advance information on certain issues that may affect them or the society at large.
#7 – Criticism of Government Policies
Pressure groups serve as a watchdog over government policies and decisions.
#8 – Representation of Diverse Interests
By incorporating in its membership, people from diverse background and by representing interests which are not adequately represented in government, pressure groups serve to act as a check on political extremism.
#9 – Provision of Specialised Data
When lobbying legislators and government officials in respect of a particular policy, pressure groups provide information, which may be specialised and technical in nature. These data may be essential for the training of lawmakers and public officials in the art of governance.