Pressure groups are groups without political power, but which aim to influence the political, or decision-making, process. They have specific interests and attempt to influence businesses, people and government to help achieve their objectives. They may have a very narrow focus (e.g. a local group trying to prevent the building of a road), or they may have broader focus (e.g. environmental groups like Greenpeace). These groups are often referred to as single-cause or multi-cause groups.
Pressure groups can be split in all sorts of ways. These include:
- Local community groups - groups campaigning on specific local issues to try to improve an area or achieve a particular outcome.
- Environmental groups - groups trying to achieve an improved environment and prevent businesses and other from polluting excessively.
- Employee groups - these could include trade unions, which are trying to achieve better conditions for their members or perhaps other professional associations representing the interests of a particular group.
- Consumer groups - these are groups, which represent the interests of consumers and campaign to ensure that consumers get a fair deal from firms.
- Social groups - groups who campaign for changes in society. These may be political changes to give people improved rights or to reduce any discrimination against minority groups.
Can you think of a group that comes under each of these headings in your country?
Pressure groups will try to influence in a variety of ways:
- Lobbying politicians - pressure groups will often try to get politicians to support their cause and raise issues in government. If these changes are implemented firms may be constrained in their behaviour and suffer increased costs of operation.
- Lobbying Boards of Directors - pressure groups may often try to lobby firms directly and find sympathetic directors. They may even try to persuade the firm of their social responsibilities. In some cases they could even become shareholders and try to influence through active shareholding.
- Organising direct campaigns - pressure groups may try to influence consumers to boycott particular firms or products. For example, Greenpeace tried to organise consumers to boycott Esso over their involvement in President Bush's campaign and the subsequent refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty.
- Lobbying investors - there has been a significant growth in recent years in 'ethical investment'. This may make many investors more open to influence from pressure groups to ensure that they only invest in ethically responsible ways.
- Preparing media campaigns - many pressure groups will aim to get as much media attention as possible for their cause. This will help raise the profile of the issue and if firms don't react appropriately, their public image may suffer. This may have a negative effect on their marketing.
The extent to which pressure groups are able to influence issues will depend on various factors, including:
- Their size - this can be financial size as well as their organisational ability.
- The popularity of their cause and their ability to mobilise the public.
- Their access to politicians - this will be a key determinant of their ability to influence the political process.
- The reputation of the pressure group and the respect they have from the general public.
The ability to organise pressure groups has been helped by the internet and social networking groups such as Facebook and MySpace. For instance, following the oil spill in the Gulf nearly a million people signed up to several Facebook campaigns to boycott BP products.