The question of whether liberal democracy is enhanced or distorted by pressure group activity is a key issue in any discussion of the roles and methods of pressure groups.
How do Pressure Groups enhance the political system?
- Pressure groups are a vital link between the government and the governed. They keep governments more responsive to the wishes of the community, especially in between elections.
- Pressure groups are able to express the views of minority groups in the community who might not otherwise receive a hearing.
- Pressure groups are able to use their expertise to provide the government with important information. This has often been the argument in relation to motoring organisations such as the RACV. It is also applicable to emerging issues, such as the Wik debate.
- Pressure groups offer an alternative source of advice to the government, separate from that coming from the Public Service.
- Pressure groups generally promote opportunities for political participation for citizens, without the need to join a political party. Moreover, they allow for the democratic rights of freedom of speech, assembly and association to be upheld.
How do Pressure Groups distort the political system?
- Pressure groups may represent a powerful minority force in society and exert political influence to the detriment of the majority of society. This is an argument often levelled at trade unions and business groups.
- Some pressure groups exert influence because of their financial position, membership or organisation. This influence may be out of proportion to their position in society.
- The use of direct action by pressure groups (eg. strikes by unions, demonstrations, blockades, pickets) can cause hardship to the community in general.
- Some pressure groups are not democratic in themselves. Some have powerful, but unrepresentative leaders who may not be representative of anyone but themselves. Some leaders do not reflect the opinions of their organisation’s members.