We can broadly study the functions and role of pressure groups under the following heads:
(1) Interest groups and interest articulation,
(2) Interest groups as agents of political socialisation, participation, political communication and recruitment,
(3) Interest groups and elections,
(4) Interest groups and activities of political parties,
(5) Interest groups and legislation,
(6) Interest groups and administration,
(7) Interest groups and adjudication,
(8) Interest groups and public opinion.
1. Functions of Interest Groups as Interest Articulation Structures:
The first step in political process is the making of demands upon the political decision-makers by the people. This is done by them through their groups. Groups bring the claims of the people to the notice of the decision-makers. The process by which the claims of the people get crystallized and articulated is called interest articulation. Pressure groups or interest groups play a key role in this process.
There are a variety of ways in which the interest articulation is performed by the groups. Associational groups are always involved in interest articulation through regular and legal channels; the anomic interest groups perform this function only at times.
Likewise, the nature, role and level of participation of various interest groups in the process of interest articulation differ from system to system and within a system from time to time.
2. Functions of Interest Groups as agents of Political Socialisation, Participation, Communication and Recruitment:
Pressure groups are agents of political socialisation in so far as they influence the orientations of the people towards the political process. They play an important role in the transmission of cultural values and in influencing the behaviour of the people in politics. They are the factors of sociological and psychological environment of the political system.
Through participation in the group activities and by influencing the nature of political process the members of various groups get engaged in political participation. Similarly, these groups play a vital role as two-way communication links between the people and the government.
The training that the members of the groups undergo as its office bearers or active members enables and encourages them to take up political roles. It is in this way that pressure groups perform the function of political recruitment.
3. Role of Interest Groups in Elections:
To contest elections is the function of the political parties and not of the pressure groups. Pressure groups, by nature are non-partisan groups. Nevertheless, these indirectly play a crucial role in elections. When the political parties are selecting their candidates, these groups try to influence the choice.
These try to get nominations for only such candidates as are considered sympathetic to their interests. In the words of V.O. Key, “Groups tend to develop behind the non-partisan facade to perform the functions of recruiting and backing candidates”. Dr. Johri also remarks, “The form taken by group politics at the time of war of nominations is a matter of tricks and tactics.”
The groups are the objects of election campaigns organised by the political parties. Each political party tries to tap the organised bases of groups for increasing its support and strength in elections. The interest groups always try to secure the defeat of ‘unhelpful’ candidates. Election month is a bargaining month for the groups.
They try for the inclusion of favourable provisions in the election manifestoes of political parties. After elections, the pressure groups try to influence the choice of ministers from amongst the elected members.
Thus, each pressure group always tries to influence the outcome of elections without getting directly involved in the election process and electoral politics. These play a hide and seek game during elections.
4. Role of Interest Groups in the Party Politics:
In a political system, there is present a continuous process of interactions between political parties and pressure groups. The latter are always at work to influence the policies and activities of a political party (usually the majority party) or parties in such a way as can help them to secure their interests.
The former are also continuously engaged in attempts to secure the support, cooperation and resources of the organised groups in order to strengthen their respective chances in the political struggle.
It the process of politics, both have to depend upon the help and cooperation of each other. Both influence each other’s activities. Either the groups combine to form or support a political party as a political counterpart of their organisation or coalition, or a political party controls some groups and thereby impart a politico-ideological content to their activity.
Analysing the interactions between interest groups and political parties Gabriel A. Almond observes, “The result is not only a process of interaction and interpretation. When the party controls groups it inhibits the capacity of groups to formulate pragmatic specific demands but when groups control a party, they inhibit the capacity of a party to combine specific interests into programmes with wider appeal.”
“Pressure groups do not themselves,” writes Henry A. Turner, “draft party programmes or nominate candidates for public office. Pressure associations do, however, appear before the resolution committees of the political parties, to urge the endorsement of their programmes as planks in the party’s platforms.
They often attempt to secure the endorsement of all the major parties and thus remove their programme from the arena of partisan controversy. Many groups are also active in the nomination and election of party members to public offices.”
Groups also work with political parties, although some pretence is usually taken to preserve a facade of neutrality, so that a group will not be denied access to decision-makers for aligning itself solely with any one party. Thus, pressure groups play an important role in party politics.
5. Interest/Pressure Groups and Legislation:
Interest/Pressure groups play a vital role in the legislative process, not only as important structures of interest articulation, but also as active agencies engaged in lobbying with the legislators for securing desired laws or amendments in laws and policies of the government.
Right from the time of preparation of election manifestoes of various political parties to the passing of laws by the legislators, the pressure groups remain associated with the process of rule-making. Besides involvement in the process of inducting “favoured candidates” into the legislature, the groups try to influence the direction of parliamentary debates through press, propaganda and lobbying.
They try to influence the members of the opposition to put questions for eliciting information from the government about subjects of their interests. They submit petitions to the legislature and try to secure governmental assurances on the floor of the house. Such a role of pressure groups is effectively at work in a parliamentary system of government.
In a presidential system, since the government is not represented in the legislature, the pressure groups try to play a more vigorous role in the legislative process indirectly through lobbying with the legislators and also through resort to several available techniques like getting bills introduced in the legislature, e.g., in the American political system, they try to use the practices of pork-barrel log-rolling, filibustering, gerrymandering, etc. for securing their interests. They fruitfully exploit the discussions in the committee rooms of the legislature to their advantage. Thus, pressure groups play an important role in the legislative process.
6. Pressure Groups and Administration:
Pressure Groups are actively involved with the process of administration. The important role played by the organised associations, unions, and trade unions of the civil servants is a well known fact. Civil Servants are the real personnel behind the political executive, who manage the day-to-day administration and policies of the government.
Their interest groups as well as the interest groups enjoying their sympathies and goodwill play an influential role in the policy-making and running of administration. Through lobbying with the bureaucracy, the pressure groups are usually in a position to influence the process of policy implementation. They influence the working of the departmental committees constituted for advice and consultation.
In the words of Holtzman, “An executive unit that serves or regulates part of the general public need the cooperation of those who are the recipients of its activities. As active organised units representing such recipients interest groups have much to offer to an administrative bureaucracy.
They may furnish special staff service for which the agency has neither the appropriation nor the skill. They feed back to the administrator the feelings and discontent of those most affected by his agency.”
Likewise, Interest/Pressure groups try to influence the work of the political executive directly as well as indirectly through the legislature. Directly, the pressure groups, through public protest movements, pressure tactics, lobbying, propaganda and use of mass media, try to influence policy-making and decision-making on the part of the political executive.
The political executive often relies upon the advice and information supplied by the interest groups. While undertaking delegated legislation, the executive usually consults the interest groups.
Indirectly, the interest/pressure groups influence the working of the executive through the activities and the work of the legislature. They play an instrumental role in influencing the legislator in favour of taking the executive to task in respect of both the acts of commission as well as omission. Under the influence of the pressure groups, the legislators can take steps to force or induce favourable changes in governmental policies.
Thus, the groups play an important role in the working of the executive. They definitely influence policy-making, decision-making and administration of laws and rules.
7. Interest/Pressure Group’s role in Judicial Administration:
Pressure groups do not hesitate to affect the work of the judiciary. Their penetration into the judicial system is a well known fact of the contemporary era of democracy. Groups try to use the judicial system for securing and safeguarding their interests. Since judiciary in a democratic system is the guardian of the rights and liberty of the people, interest groups often seek access to the court for the redress of their grievances against the government as well as for getting declared a particular decision or policy as unconstitutional. They try to use the system of judicial review to get the unsuited laws and policies rejected as unlawful.
Pressure groups also try to influence the appointments and transfers of judges. This is done through lobbying with the executive. Use of press and other means of mass media to influence the thinking of the judges are also practised by the groups. Thus, groups play an indirect role in the working of the judicial system.
8. Interest Groups and Public Opinion:
Pressure groups play a leading role in the formulation of public opinion. Each pressure group is continuously engaged in evaluating all such laws, rules, decisions and policies which have a direct or indirect bearing on the interests it represents. It always places the pros and cons not only before its members but also before the general public for eliciting popular support as well as for catching the attention of the government.
Means of mass media are fully exploited for this purpose? The whole exercise goes a long way to determine public opinion on various issues and problems. Pressure groups like political parties play an important role in the formulation and moulding of public opinion.