Several similarities characterise the Interest/Pressure Groups and political Parties:
(1) Both are voluntarily organised groups of people;
(2) Both are involved in the process of politics; and
(3) Both are involved in interest articulation, interest aggregation, political socialisation, political communication and leadership requirement.
(4) Both play an important role in the social and political life of the people.
However, political parties and pressure groups differ in respect of their organisations, functions and roles. Their organistion and role somewhat differs in different political systems. As such there cannot be made a uniform list of similarities and dissimilarities between the two.
Yet on an average we can analyse the points of difference between them under the following heads:
(1) Difference in Size:
Political Parties are Larger and Interest/Pressure Groups are comparatively smaller organisations. A political party is generally a very large organisation of people-sometimes of several million voters and other citizens.
It is spread over to all the different sections or segments or area of society. As against it, a pressure group is relatively a small group of people with some specific common interest or interests.
(2) Different Basis of Organisation:
A political party is organised by a group of people with a similar political ideology or broad agreement over a group of related political ideas. Ideological unity is a source of unity and cohesion in a political party.
The members of a political party always base their policies, programmes and activities on the principles of ideologies they accept and support. As against this, a pressure group is an interest group.
A specific interest is usually the basis of the formation of a pressure group. It is organised by the people for the promotion of common interests, which can be promoted, it is believed, by the members through mutual cooperation and joint efforts.
(3) Difference in Respect of Functions:
According to Wasby, “A political party is an organisation primarily concerned with the selection of candidates and their election to office, as well as with the running of government after electing those candidates, and only secondarily with the determination of issues or programmes on the basis of which the government may be run. Interest Groups, on the other hand, are primarily concerned with achieving the programmes they desire by having them adopted as policies of government, and secondarily with the selection of public officials.
(ii) Political parties are concerned with policies, but only so far as these help them to achieve electoral victories and to remain in office in the government, interest groups are interested in candidate selection, but largely in terms of achieving the policy goals which are their primary aims.
(iii) Pressure Groups play a vital role in the process of interest articulation, whereas Political Parties, as Blondel observes, are the main agencies of interest aggregation. However, this does not mean that such a role differentiation is absolutely rigid. Political Parties also articulate interests and Pressure Groups also participate in interest aggregation.
(iv) The scope of the functions of Political Parties is much broader than the scope of functions of those of the Pressure Groups. Activation, mobilisation, recruitment, socialisation and communication functions are performed by political parties in very large areas and on a very large scale. The Pressure Groups perform these functions certainly on a limited scale and in a restricted circle.
(4) Difference in Respect of the Final Aim:
The final aim of a political party is to capture political power in the state by capturing majority of seats in the elections. It is always governed by this objective and all its policies and actions are directed towards this end.
It always directs its efforts towards the creation of a favourable environment for itself in which the voters can be favourably influenced to vote it to power. The pressure groups on the other hand do not try to get power, on the other hand, they try that power holders should help them in securing their interests.
They simply aim to favourably influence the exercise of power by the government “A pressure group/interest group seeks to influence the public policymaking process but without attempting to take over directly the control and conduct of government. Political parties, on the other hand, are primarily directing themselves at the “ruler’s role”; to win a legislative majority support and run the government.”
(5) Difference in Respect of Methods:
The political parties are committed to use peaceful and constitutional means for securing power. They fight the battle of ballot and not of bullets and violence. The interest/pressure groups, on the other hand, use means of means of mutual cooperation and also of direct action (like strikes, gheraos, bandhs, boycotts) for securing their interests. They use elections as opportunities for securing the several advantages from the party in power and the parties seeking to replace the ruling party.
However, the political parties too, now-a-days, particularly in developing political systems, are increasingly using the direct action means for securing their objectives-chiefly for catching the attention and winning the sympathy of the voters. The parties, very often, help the pressure groups involved in direct action with a view to win their support for them.
Pointing out the difference between political parties and pressure groups, Neuman has rightly observed: “Fundamentally, pressure groups are the representation of homogeneous interests seeking influence. The interest group is strong and effective when it has a directed specific purpose.
Political parties, on the other hand, seek office, are directed towards policy- decisions and combine heterogeneous groups. In fact, it is one of their major themes to reconcile the diverse forces within political society. Theirs is an integrative function which is not the domain of the interest groups.”
Dr. J.C. Johri systematically summarises the differences between the political parties and pressure/interest groups: “While the latter is a bigger organisation committed to certain principles and programmes and play an open role in the politics of a country, the former has a limited clientele and strives to plays the role of either a splinter group within a political party or shifting its loyalty and support from one part to another and, at the same time, pretending its aloofness from politics. However, both have a political complexion while a political party plays politics by virtue of its profession; a pressure group does likewise for the sake of expediency.”