As the number of political parties has fallen, that of pressure groups has increased. In the voluntary sector alone, one third of the population is involved in regular work for organisations, several of which can be described as a pressure group. They are organised groups that don't put up candidates for election, but seek to influence government policy or legislation. These organisations are also described as interest groups, lobby groups, or protest groups. The term pressure group can inadvertently be interpreted as groups that use actual pressure to achieve their aims.
The term pressure group does not clearly distinguish between the groups that fall under the term. There is a huge range of pressure groups, covering politics, business, employment, ethnic minorities, health, defence, religion, foreign relations, animal welfare, social welfare, environment, consumers. The numbers of members from these groups can range from a million members to those with a dozen. One example is the Countryside Alliance which has 105,000 full members plus 250,000 associate members through affiliated clubs and societies. Coxall, Lynton & Leach (2003, p136) argues that pressure groups are vital institutions in our modern democratic society. In the 1970s and 1980s there was proliferation of pressure groups particularly connected with environmental issues, ranging from global pollution problems to protecting particular animals.
There are key characteristics that classify pressure groups. The sectional/cause division is the first step in categorizing the groups.
Sectional groups represent the interests of a precise section of society, existing to further the interests of people as engaged in certain occupations. Members of sectional pressure groups are directly and personally concerned with the outcome that the group is fighting for, as they stand to gain professionally and economically. The British Medical Association (BMA), and the Law Society are examples of this. Membership is usually restricted to lawyers and doctors for example.
Cause groups, however, promote a shared belief or view usually about a single public issue. This form of group is also known as attitude, ideological or preference groups. Examples of these include Greenpeace, the National Trust, and Amnesty International. These cause groups seem to have become a permanent part of British life, many other groups tend to be of a more temporary nature than sectional groups. The members are volunteers and the campaigns tend to last for a few months or years before the group disbands. This makes calculating the number of cause groups in the United Kingdom difficult.
The main difference between the two groups is that sectional groups seek to protect the interests of its members whereas the aim of the cause group is to advance the public welfare as perceived by its members. Grant (1994, p12) states, "Sectional groups, represent a section of the community Their function is to look after the common interests of that section and their membership is normally restricted to that section.' Cause groups, represent some belief or principle. . . They seek to act in the interests of that cause." Arguably the nature of the demands made by the two groups differs. Sectional groups are more likely to advance limited, specific goals, which are generally concurrent with society's values and often deal with highly technical issues. Cause groups often have fewer resources at their disposal than sectional groups in terms of unpaid staff and finance. Membership can be large, by 1994 Greenpeace had 143,000 members in the UK and more than one million in America with an international turnover of £45 million. Most cause groups have smaller membership, the drawbacks of poorly paid staff can to some extent be offset by their commitment to the cause, backed up by the willingness of members to work for the organisation free of charge. Amnesty...