A Sobering View Of Our “Democracy”

Posted in Around The Nation, Commentary at 10:50 am by wcnews

No one does it better than Lawrence Lessig.

Here’s more about the Gilens and Page, .

Does it matter what the poor think about policymaking? Depressingly in American politics, their opinion counts only once every four years—when it’s a presidential election year. That’s the only time policies adopted by the federal government bear any resemblance to those the poor say they prefer. Martin Gilens, a political scientist at Princeton University, came to this conclusion, described in his 2012 essay for Boston Review, looking at data on public opinion surveys from the 1960s to earlier 2000s. Interest groups and affluent Americans—whom Gilens defined as the top 10 percent of income earners—have disproportionate influence on the direction policymaking takes. Policies included on national household opinion surveys have a 1-in-5 chance of passing if they are favored by 20 percent of the rich. If they are favored by 80 percent, the policy passes just under half the time. An average voter’s preferences hardly matter. Even labor unions, civil rights organizations, and the like do little to boost the influence of poor and middle-income Americans.

Gilens and his collaborator Benjamin Page of Northwestern University have just published a study to further explain this relationship. In it, the authors examine four theories for who’s shaping policymaking in the United States—average voters; elite individuals; interest groups representing the wishes of different voter segments; and interest groups advocating for particular policies (e.g., pro-business groups). Most commentators have been startled by its conclusions (some of which were addressed in Gilen’s earlier work). It ends with pessimistic tones: “Our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” the authors write. And if “policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans,” as they found, “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

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