Functions of Pressure Groups
Recall that a pressure group is a group of like minded people who seek to influence (put pressure on) government on a particular issue. They do not seek power through being elected. The primary roles and major functions of pressure groups can not be underestimated. Below some of their functions have been outlined and include:
- Pressure groups try to make the government more attentive to the needs of the people. This is because as groups with many members sometimes nationally spread, they command more respect than individuals who may be fighting for similar causes.
- Pressure groups provide specialised and expert information to the government on their interests and explain government policies to their members and the general public. Thus they are an important link between the government and the people.
- They help to educate their members and the whole society on their fundamental human and political rights, and on some government policies.
- The political education and consciousness of citizens are promoted through the activities of pressure groups.
- They promote economic stability of the country through their useful advice to government on economic policies. Example is the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).
- They promote certain general welfare services. For example, human rights groups like the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) offer free legal services in court, especially on cases bordering on the exercise of fundamental human rights.
- Pressure groups help to integrate the differing interests of various groups in the society into a manageable whole. With this, the government’s attention to these needs will be more focused and effectively addressed.
- They promote and protect the interest of their members. For example, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASSU) got a special salary scale approved for its members.
Importance of Pressure Groups
In theory, pressure groups are an asset in a democratic society. They allow ordinary people to participate in politics and even small groups with little money have the chance to influence government policy in the right circumstances. This positive view of pressure groups is called pluralism. On balance, however, the evidence tends to support the contrasting elitist position on that, although everyone is free to organize on behalf of a favorite cause, certain individuals and groups have an advantage.
The following highlight the importance of pressure groups:
- Promote discussion and debate and mobilise public opinion on key issues
- Perform a role in educating citizens about specific issues
- Groups can enhance democratic participation, pluralism and diversity
- Groups raise and articulate issues that political parties perhaps won’t touch because of their sensitivity
- They provide an important access point for those seeking redress of grievance
- They represent minorities who cannot represent themselves
- Groups can be an important and valuable source of specialist information / expertise for an overloaded legislature and civil service
- Many groups play an important role in implementing changes to public policy
- Pressure groups encourage a decentralisation of power within the political system
- They act as a check and balance to the power of executive government
Theoretical Perspectives of Pressure Groups
Much work has been undertaken by academics attempting to categorize how advocacy groups operate, particularly in relation to governmental policy creation. The field is dominated by numerous and diverse schools of thought:
- Pluralism: This is based upon the understanding that advocacy groups operate in competition with one another and play a key role in the political system. They do this by acting as a counterweight to undue concentrations of power. However, this pluralist theory (formed primarily by American academics) reflects a more open and fragmented political system similar to that in countries such as the United States.
- Neo-pluralism: Under neo-pluralism, a concept of political communities developed that is more similar to the British form of government. This is based on the concept of political communities in that advocacy groups and other such bodies are organised around a government department and its network of client groups. The members of this network co-operate together during the policy making process.
- Corporatism or elitism: Some advocacy groups are backed by private businesses which can have a considerable influence on legislature.