Pressure groups is defined as organised groups, which influence government decisions socially or economically, without necessarily entering into election activities for the control of government. In doing this, they influence the legislature, the executive and other officials of government to achieve their immediate aims. However, some have argued that pressure groups are part of the political process and that they attempt to reinforce or change the direction of government policy, but do not wish, as it were, to be in government.
Types of Pressure Groups
There are basically four types of pressure groups, namely economic pressure groups, non-economic groups, institutional and informal pressure groups. They are now explained below.
#1 – Economic Pressure Groups
Economic pressure groups are sometimes called associational groups. They are specialized functional groups which draw their membership from particular occupations or professions. They represent and protect the interest of their members. The economic interest group can be sub-divided into the following categories:
Business associations are particularly important in industrial societies where there are many large-scale industries, manufacturing concerns and trade associations. They are generally well organised and influential. It is primarily an association of employers. The high degree of organisation and influence of business association is partly due to the small size of these bodies. So whereas a labour Union may have thousands of workers, the business interests are usually few and congregated in oligopolies.
Labour associations or unions represent workers in several public and private sector organisations. Labour associations are mostly powerful but the power of the employer to hire and fire sometimes undermines the influence of labour unions.
Labour unions sometimes create or metamorphose into a political party. For example, the British Labour Party was established by the unions in 1900.
Professional associations are bodies representing various professions. The American Medical Association, for example, is a very powerful lobby organisation because it provides individual incentives to members including defence against oral practice suits. Such an association regulate the practice of the profession, restricts entry into it and disciplines members. But more worrisome is the penchant of medical practitioners to go on strike at will without paying attention to professional ethics and the number of lives that may be lost in the process.
Agricultural associations representing the interest of farmers. The relevance and influence of agricultural association depend, to a large extent, the attitude of the government and the people towards farmers and farming. The American Bureau Federation is powerful largely because of the importance of agriculture to the USA economy. One the contrary, governments in developing countries have always paid lip-service to agriculture and that is probably why the prices of basic foodstuffs are expensive. More damaging is the importation of agricultural products.
#2 – Non-Economic Pressure Groups
Non-economic pressure groups are promotional groups who work for the interest of the whole society. They may take the form of social, political, religious or philanthropic associations. The political influence of these associations derives not only from the social and economic services they provide to their members, but also because the people have confidence in them.
These groups consist of a core of highly dedicated enthusiasts whose commitment to the good of society is beyond doubt. Thus, unlike economic association which essentially stand for a particular sectional interest, non-economic associations appeal to a wide segment of the whole society.
#3 – Institutional Pressure Groups
These are occupational institutions established as part of the political system. That is, these institutions are created by the government to achieve some objectives. In this category is the military which has specific professional interest but also has wider interests which may lead it to move from the position of a pressure group to that of a ruling group following a military coup.
#4 – Informal Pressure Groups
Informal pressure groups can be classified into two groups, namely, constitutional informal and anomicinformalgroup.
The constitutional informal groups are those pressure groups that work to existing institutional structures. For example, the British Anti-Slavery Society formed in 1789, which successfully campaigned for the abolition of slave trade falls into this category.
The anomic pressure groups sometimes do not use constitutional means to achieve their objectives. A Student’s Union is a typical example of an anomicpressure group.