by Brian T. Lynch
Martin Gilens of Princeton University, and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University , conducted a multivariate analysis of 1,779 policy issues in the United States, the results of which confirmed that the United States is no longer a Majoritarian Electoral Democracy.
In other words, we have lost majority rule. The United States has become an oligarchy. Business interests and the interests of the wealthy elite have overwhelming dominance in influencing United States policy and laws. You can read their conclusions below and read this newly published study in full at this URL:
According to the authors, “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.”
Of course, anyone paying attention to government policies versus the popular will of the electorate would already have drawn this conclusion. I recently posted a two part piece on this very subject a few months ago: http://j.mp/1bz7aO5
The Gilens and Page study opens by asking a critical question, who really rules? Are we, the people, the sovereigns of our nation, or have we become “largely powerless?” He begins to answer this by summarizing four different theoretical traditions recognized by scholars who study democratic governance.
The first of these theoretical traditions discussed is the Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, which is best “… encapsulated in Abraham Lincoln’s reference to government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” This tradition holds that laws and policies should reflect the views of the average voter, and that the positions of politicians seeking election should converge towards the center of the normal range of voter opinion. It is this view of democracy most often presented by major media outlets when covering our politics. More importantly, this is these are the outcomes most of us expect from our democracy.
The second tradition is the Economic Elite Domination tradition in which US policy making is dominated by those with high levels of wealth or income. Some scholars also include social status or position as part of this tradition. The economic elites often exercise their influence through foundations, think-tanks and “opinion shaping apparatus,” as well as to the lobbyists and politicians they finance.
Majoritarian pluralism is the third theoretical tradition that Gilens and Page discusse. This tradition analyzes politics through the lens of competing interest groups within the population. These groups may include political parties, organized interest groups, business firms or industry sector organizations. All things being equal, the struggle between diverse factions within the population should also produce policy outcomes that are at least compatible with civil majority opinions. But all things are not necessarily equal, leading to the fourth, related tradition called Biased Pluralism.
Biased pluralism entails policy outcomes that result from contending, but unrepresentative organized interest groups. These unrepresentative interest groups are generally made up of upper-class citizens with the power and influence to tilt policy towards the wishes of corporations, businesses and professional associations.So, after statistically comparing almost 2,000 policy outcomes against these four models of political influence in our democracy, what did the researchers find? In their own words:
“By directly pitting the predictions of ideal-type theories against each other within a single statistical model … we have been able to produce some striking findings. One is the nearly total failure of “median voter” and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
“Nor do organized interest groups substitute for direct citizen influence [snip]… Over-all, net interest group alignments are not significantly related to the preferences of average citizens.” The net alignments of the most influential, business oriented groups are negatively related to the average citizen’s wishes.”
“Furthermore, the preferences of economic elites… have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do.
What then has become of our democracy? It has been usurped by billionaires who directly fund candidates for public office, directly influence policy through lobbying and heavily fund public marketing campaigns to influence public opinion for their own advantage.
We have seen this before during the “Gilded Age” at the turn of the last Century. We found our voice a hundred years ago and we took back our democracy from the wealthy elite. Today they are smarter, richer and have more control over the media and government than they did back then, so the challenges we face to save civil democracy and regain majority rule won’t be easy. But history tells us that power is ultimately with the people. We must start by recognizing our situation and begin organizing ourselves to collectively act in our own best interest. We need to become, once again, a nation of citizens, not a nation of businesses and the rich.