Pressure groups in the USA are very different to their UK counterparts. In the USA, they are generally more effective and more significant then UK pressure groups, which is due to various factors. The USA has a much more favourable constitutional and legal framework for the groups to succeed with. This is due to constitutional protection of freedom of speech, which pressure groups can exploit. Under the 1st Amendment, they have the rights of speech, expression and association. They also have the Freedom of
Information Act, which allows anyone (including pressure groups) to access information about the government. This allows pressure groups to fully exploit the rights that have been given to them under the Constitution and take full advantage of them. Pressure groups are entitled to use their right to petition government for redress of grievances, which creates favourable legal conditions for groups to exploit. The UK, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same legal framework for groups to take advantage of.
An unwritten constitution gives pressure groups a lack of clarity over what actions they can actually take. This causes problems over methods and tactics used, meaning that generally they are less significant and successful than US pressure. The UK has only just introduced the Freedom of Information Act, but as it is a new act, clarity over what can actually be accessed is still vague. This puts UK groups at a disadvantage over their US counterparts, and therefore supports the view that US pressure groups are more significant.
The USA system of government allows greater access and greater scope for influence. Federalism and the separation of powers fragment power between different institutions, providing greater accessibility due to numerous access points in the system. Lobbying is used to take advantage of this situation, and professional lobbyists are often hired from PR of law firms to influence federal, state or local governments. The NRA, for example, has over 100 full time lobbyists, giving it greater experience and knowledge.
Many lobbyists have worked in government, which allows them to have a working knowledge of what goes on and also allows them to form relationships with other members. Former Ohio Senator, Howard Metzenbaum, is now chairman of the Consumer Federation of America. Having an 18 year career in congress has allowed him to form connections with other current congress members, allowing his group to have greater influence in congress. Having this sort of connection in government will always be a good thing, and this allows pressure groups in the USA to have greater success. Iron triangles’ also give US pressure groups greater power and significance. These ‘alliances’ between pressure groups, the relevant congressional committees and the relevant government department or agency. One example of this is the ‘veterans’ iron triangle’, where a veterans’ pressure group, such as Vietnam Veterans of America, the Veterans’ Affairs Committee of the House and Senate and the Department of Veterans Affairs work together to get the best for each other.
These provide pressure groups with greater power as they negotiate with the other two to get the best deal for their groups. In the UK, pressure groups do not have these sort of relationships with government, parliament or MPs. Pressure groups do not have the ‘clout’ to influence government officials. Although they do lobby, they do not to the same extent. Iron triangles are not part of the UK system, and this can make UK pressure groups weaker. They do, though, have insider groups, such as the BMA, who work closely with government to improve the medical and hospital situation in Britain.
These groups do have a significance and power over legislation being introduced, but they do not have the same affect as the ‘iron triangles’ of America. The sheer sizes of some American pressure groups allow them to have a great significance and presence. For example, the NRA has a membership of over 3million and the AARP has a membership totalling over 35million, which is over half of the total population of England. This gives us an idea of how well supported they are, and therefore have greater power over federal, state and local governments.
In the UK, pressure groups have far fewer members, leaving them less likely to influence the general public and, more importantly, the government. In this sense, the US pressure groups have greater significance then their UK counterparts. Due to lack of party discipline and the weakness of the parties, pressure groups in the US assume some of the functions parties in the UK undertake. Loyalties in congress do not depend on what party you represent, and this leads to pressure groups influencing congressmen’s decisions.
Funding candidates, through PAC’s, is a method that they use to help influence their decision. By donating money to a candidate, it allows the pressure group to have influence in congress. This type of method used doesn’t occur in the UK system, giving US pressure groups greater significance in the outcome of legislation. High party discipline in the UK parliament makes it very difficult for pressure groups to seek influence, as party loyalty is very important. Pressure groups can persuade MP’s to raise issues and points, but when it comes to voting, party, not pressure groups, loyalties prevail.
The House of Lords, on the other hand, are more inclined to be independent, rather than have strong party loyalty. Pressure groups in the UK exploit the Lords, rather than the Commons, as they are, generally, easier to persuade and influence. MP’s rely on their party for re-election, whereas their US counterparts (congress members), are more dependent on their own affairs. Due to this, it is clear that the UK party discipline tradition holds back pressure groups in influencing decisions, but in the US, enhances their position, only making them more powerful and significant.
In the American system, pressure groups have the ability to influence the decision of the judiciary to strike down a law, declaring it unconstitutional. In the UK, this cannot happen due to the unwritten constitution in place. Sponsorship of court cases in America is popular and successful, with Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka (1954) being sponsored by the NAACP. This successful case declared segregation unconstitutional, proving that US pressure groups can influence, not only influence congress and the executive, but also the courts.
There can be no doubt that US pressure groups hold more significance than their UK counterparts. The power they hold is far greater than UK pressure groups and gives them further clout to put their issues forward. The size and strength of the groups in America are far superior compared to the UK and this allows them to seek further influence. Also, due to the US system of government, and their constitutional protection and legal framework, it allows pressure groups to seek further influence. Pressure groups in the US are more powerful and significant.