A pressure group is an organisation with shared aims which seeks to influence policy through political means, without seeking political office itself.
“Shared aims” are not necessarily narrowly political, for instance The Ramblers’ Association may only want more footpaths.
“Policy” could refer to the options chosen by any branch of government (Executive, Legislative or Judicial) or any level of government(UK, National, Local or European), or indeed other organisations, such as companies.
In fact, pressure groups are increasingly targeting image-conscious companies directly. This is because governments themselves may be frightened of driving away international investment if they introduce laws which irritate multinational corporations.
“Political means” usually means lobbying (trying to persuade Ministers, MPs, European Commissioners etc, either through direct contact or through paid intermediaries). It also means petitioning, commissioning reports, taking cases to court, organising boycotts and demonstrations.
Other means are more controversial. It is generally accepted that pressure groups can use non-violent civil disobedience and still be considered to be pressure groups (indeed, the authorities rarely prosecute people under such circumstances). But this is not the case if terrorism or blackmail is used. Thus the RSPCA is a pressure group, but the IRA and the Animal Liberation Front are not.
“Itself” means that the pressure group won’t put up candidates for election. Some pressure groups, however, have turned themselves into political parties or have put forward independent candidates in election campaigns to raise awareness of their interests.
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