Pressure Groups | Definition, Features, Functions, Pros & Cons
There are several groups in the political system which attempt to influence the political process. Apart from political parties, pressure groups are also important in this respect. The study of pressure groups has its origin in the “group theory” of politics. This theory emphasizes that the group rather than the individual is central to the study of politics. The major concern of government, therefore, is the adjustment or balance of group interests. The first systematic study of pressure groups was by Arthur Bentley (1908), a famous English writer. There has since then a been great deal of interest in the study of pressure groups.
What Does Pressure Group Actually Mean?
There is a lot of confusion about the meaning of pressure group. As such, various towns such as – pressure group, interest group, attitude group or political group have been used to describe the same phenomenon. Some writers disagree with the use of the term “pressure group” because it is not every group that uses pressure to achieve its objectives, and even if it does, it does so intermittently.
Many writers even see it as a term of abuse and not a neutral description because there is this suspicion of a group attempting to subvert the processes of representative government through dark and secretive intrigues. This partly explains the deep-rooted suspicion of labour unions and other pressure groups by political leaders.
In spite of this disagreement about terminology, the term pressure group has come to stay. It has come to stick like a sore thumb.
Definition of Pressure Group
A pressure group may simply be defined as an association of individuals whose main objective is to influence government in a manner favourable to the interest of its members.
Unlike political parties, a pressure group has no interest in becoming the government. Rather pressure groups are organised groups seeking to achieve defined goals.
Classification of Pressure Groups
Pressure groups may be classified into two categories depending on the types of goals they pursue. These are the interest groups and attitude groups. The interest groups is otherwise known as a protective groups. As the name implies, the interest group usually protects the interests of a section of the society. In other words, its membership is limited to a part of the society. Examples of pressure groups in this category are professional and labour associations.
On the other hand, the promotional or attitude groups promote a particular cause, which may be of interest to the whole society. The members of this group hold certain values in common. They may be concerned about smoking, child trafficking or examination malpractice. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for example, campaigns against all forms of cruelty to animals.
These two classes of pressure groups are very important to our understanding of the topic but this is not to say that the classification has no problem of its own. it is difficult, for instance, to draw a line between defending an interest and promoting an interest. In the game of football, for example, there are defenders and attackers. But nowadays, defenders do score goals and the two full back players (now called wing backs) are even encouraged by coaches to join the attack. The attackers also help to defend when necessary. In spite of this however, the primary role of the defenders to defend while that of the attacker is to score goals. Similarly an interest group protects or defends an interest while an attitude group primarily promotes a cause. It is therefore difficult to separate one from the other.
Types of Pressure Groups
- Economic pressure groups: These are mostly manufacturers, associations like chamber of commerce, cocoa farmers union, cotton producers union, etc. They mount pressure on and at the same time influence the government whenever they have problems on issues affecting their members.
- Professional pressure groups: They are organised professional associations like the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ).
They can go on strike to press home their demand for an improved better condltlon of their members.
- Educational pressure groups: This group has to do with lecturers in colleges and higher institutions of learning, students and the non-academic staff of these institutions.
- Labour Congress: All trade unions are mostly under this body. It is the parent body that officially represent the interests of the workers with the government. There are state chapters of Labour Congress.
- Promotional interest groups: These group are out to champion the cause for an improved condition of the people’s welfare. This action may not necessarily benefit the members. but the less privileged in the society. For example. the Nigerian Bar Association gives free legal services to the less priviledged ones in the society.
- Social pressure groups: They are generally out to promote the general welfare of their members. Some of these groups are Boys Scout, Girls Guide, Rotary Club, Old Boys Association, etc.
- Religious pressure groups: This includes christians, muslims, traditionalists, etc. Most issues affecting them have been resolved through lobbying of the executive and the parliament.
Importance Of Pressure Groups
- Offer useful suggestions: They offer useful suggestions and advise governments at local, state and national levels.
- Promote economic stability: This is made possible through the chamber of commerce.
- Welfare services: Pressure groups promote certain general welfare services e.g. the Nigerian Bar Association which sometimes offers free legal services in courts.
- Acts as a link: They act as a link between the government and the people.
- Act as watchdogs: Pressure groups act as watchdogs over public policies and administration.
- Education: They help to educate their members on their political rights especially when these rights are infringed upon by government’s decision.
- Provide specialised information: Pressure groups provide specialised and expert information tothe government.
- Promoting members interest: This is done through the protection of such interests.
- Provision of manpower: They provide manpower bank from which government can draw experts to serve in the government e.g. Judges can only be appointed from within the Bar (LAW) Association.
- Act as a Check: Pressure groups act as a check against dictatorship.
- Bribery and Corruption: They help to prevent bribery and corruption in the political system through their activities.
- Useful Information: Pressure groups provide useful information in the process of law making.
- Policy Formation: They play vital role in assisting the government in policy forrhulation and implementation.
- Provision of Educational Programmes: Seminars, lectures, debates, etc.
- Research: They conduct research found useful for the administration of the state on technical issues.
- Serve as yardstick: Pressure group serve as yardstick for measuring the popularity of government policies.
- The underprivileged: They assist in championing the cause of the underprivileged in the country.
FACTORS THAT CAN AID EFFECTIVE OPERATION OF PRESSURE GROUPS
- Large size: The impact of the activities of pressure groups having large membership are usually felt more than those with small membership.
- Dedication and Unity: The existence of a high degree of dedication and unity among its members in pursuance of their goals and objectives.
- Adequate funds: There should be the availability of adequate funds with which to sponsor their programmes.
- Capability of the leadership: The more acceptable, pragmatic and charismatic the leaders are, the more effective the group becomes.
- Relevance of its aims: If there is popularity or relevance in its aims, objectives and demands, then its operations will be effective.
- Attitude of the government: Attitude of the government of the day towards the activities of pressure groups is very important. The more tolerant the government is, the more effective the operations of the pressure group.
- Good Strategy: With good organisation, the operation of pressure group can be very effective.
Weakness of Pressure Groups
Weaknesses or Factors Working Against the Success of Pressure Groups
- Small size: The impactof the activities of pressure groups is often marred by their poor numerical strength.
- Lack of dedication among members: lf members of the group are not dedicated, they may not achieve their set goals.
- Lack of adequate funds: To have an effective and achievable programme, they need enough funds.
- Poor leadership: Leaders without vision and charisma may not be able to carry the members of a group along.
- Attitude of government: A government that is oppressive will not tolerate the demands or activities of pressure groups. For example, the military government.
- Poor organisation: A poorly organised pressure group will not only be ineffective but will also not achieve the set objectives.
- Inadequate political education: If leaders and members of a group are not properly educated about their rights, they cannot be effective.
Pressure Groups’ Mode of Operation
TECHNIQUES EMPLOYED BY PRESSURE GROUPS TO ACHIEVE THEIR OBJECTIVES
- Mass media: Pressure groups influence government policy through the mass media like, Radio, T.V., Newspapers, Press conferences etc, in which they highlight their problems or make special appeal to the government. This is an effective strategy in mobilising public opinion.
- Strike / Boycott: Pressure groups may embark on strike (refusal to work). Strike is always the last option after all reconciliation and strategies have failed. Students in higher institutions of learning can equally embark on boycott of lectures (refusal to attend lectures) for the same purpose.
- Lobbying: Pressure groups attempt to lobby influential officials of the state e.g. the legislature. Lobbying is an effective strategy in democratic societies.
- Dialogue: This is a formal discussion between representatives of government and pressure groups. If dialogue fails, then confrontation is inevitable confrontation is inevitable.
- Ultimatum: Ultimatum comes up after different avenues for dialogue have been exhausted without result. It is a condition issued by pressure groups to either the government or employer and failure may attract unhealthy development.
- Association with international unions: They join international groups as a way of attracting international sympathy. For example, the Nigerian Labour Congress is a member of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU).
- Pressure mounted on the Executive: The group mount pressure on the executive, not to sign into law, bills that are seen as unhealthy. Such bills may not produce somethin g good for them or for the public.
- Working alliance with political party: This is done in order to have its programmes become a major concern to the party, if election result is in their favour. Most pressure groups give support to the party in order to win the election indirectly.
- Demonstrations: Demonstration could be peaceful or violent. Pressure groups adopt these methods to mobilise support from members of the public.
- Consultation: Most of the policies made by government are done based on consultation with some pressure groups. consultations with some pressure groups.
Problems on the Activities of Pressure Groups
- Political instability: This can result especially where the activities of pressure groups lead to the fall of government in power.
- Social disorder: The activities ofpressure groups may be accompanied by social disorder eg. riot, violent demonstrations, etc.
- Unrepresented: Pressure groups may be taken to represent more general opinions or people which may not be so. Therefore, the majority of the general public may go unrepresented where they have interest.
- Misrepresentation: There could be mis-representation of public opinion by a vocal few to the government.
- Misinformation: Pressure groups may disseminate wrong information through mass propaganda thereby mis-informing the general public.
- Lobbying: Pressure groups may corrupt public officials by engaging in lobbying.
- Strike Action: It is two edged. The company suffers a down turn; also the legitimate support of the people.
The country’s economy is affected by industrial actions. ..
8. Self-centred: Pressure groups are self-centred. They are mostly vocal about issues affecting their members only. Supporting a Party: The support given to a political party by pressure group may produce a government that does not.