How Democratic are Pressure Groups?

Democracy is all about enabling the people to participate in the political process. But to what extent do pressure groups truly represent the peoples’ opinions and how democratic are they?

On the one hand, pressure groups do represent groups and disperse power in a pluralist fashion. Pressure groups are designed to represent the many views of society, especially those in the minority, to give power to their voice and provide a greater opportunity to influence policy and the decision-making process. Dispersing power in a pluralist fashion prevents any form of dictatorship and enables discussion and consultation to occur before any final decision is made. For example, the British Medical Association consulted often with parliamentary committees before any decision was made. Similarly, health groups consulted with congressmen before the final decision of ‘Obamacare’. Pressure groups also educate and inform as well as providing useful advice. If there is an issue that needs addressing or there is confusion over a particular issue pressure groups can teach the people about what is happening enabling them to form an opinion – this is highly democratic. For example, Action for Smoking Health provided a significant amount of information on the effects of smoking on your health before helping to pass the ban on smoking in public places. In America, anti-drug groups have protested against the legalisation of marijuana commenting on the negative effects it has on the body. Groups are a key control mechanism against over-mighty government. As a result, it prevents an elective dictatorship. They can scrutinise government and the government are held accountable, meaning they must explain and justify their actions and the policies they create. Finally, it boosts participation, which has unfortunately dwindled in many countries throughout the world. Pressure groups are vital outlet for public grievance and a ‘tension release’. Politicians can then aggregate the demands of society and change the demands into a plan of action for society

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However, pressure groups are not wholly democratic. To a certain extent, they are undermining the elective officials. When elections happen within a state or constituency you are giving someone mandated power to make decisions on your behalf. So, by getting involved with pressure groups you are taken that role away and effectively ‘corrupting’ the system. Furthermore, it may become a ‘politics of self interest’ which threatens order of society. People will become emotional, lacking the rationality of those in government, creating social decay and tensions. Outsider pressure groups, such as Greenpeace and Fathers4Justice start using protests and direct action to get their views heard – Fathers4Justice climbed onto many famous monuments to gain media attention and to ‘force’ politicians to discuss their issues. This surely cannot be democratic. Finally, they lack elective legitimacy. Leaders of pressure groups are unaccountable and have not been directly elected to represent the people’s views which means that ‘dictatorship in pressure groups’ is plausible. Rich and greedy pressure groups can dictate the political process without sufficient consultation with other pressure groups and their own members. For example, in the USA, it is quite common for a Republican pressure group to outspend a Democratic pressure group on conservative policy within a state.

What are your view on pressure groups and would you say they are democratic or not?

Thanks for reading,

Digestible Politics

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2 comments on “How Democratic are Pressure Groups?

  1. Tom says:

    Really helpful, many thanks

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