There’s a very interesting post by Larry Bartels about a recent political science paper that examines which groups in the U.S. succeed in the political system. You’ll never guess what happened next!
A forthcoming article in Perspectives on Politics by (my former colleague) Martin Gilens and (my sometime collaborator) Benjamin Page marks a notable step in that process. Drawing on the same extensive evidence employed by Gilens in his landmark book “Affluence and Influence,” Gilens and Page analyze 1,779 policy outcomes over a period of more than 20 years. They conclude that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
…In their primary statistical analysis, the collective preferences of ordinary citizens had only a negligible estimated effect on policy outcomes, while the collective preferences of “economic elites” (roughly proxied by citizens at the 90th percentile of the income distribution) were 15 times as important. “Mass-based interest groups” mattered, too, but only about half as much as business interest groups — and the preferences of those public interest groups were only weakly correlated (.12) with the preferences of the public as measured in opinion surveys.
But if that’s not depressing…
Gilens and Page frame their study as a test of four broad theories of American politics: “Majoritarian Electoral Democracy,” “Majoritarian Pluralism,” “Economic Elite Domination” and “Biased Pluralism.” “Majoritarian Electoral Democracy,” with its emphasis on public opinion, elections and representation, provides the theoretical backbone of most contemporary political science (including mine). The training of most graduate students (including mine) is primarily couched in that framework. But Gilens’s and Page’s work makes that look like a bad scientific bet, wishfully ignoring most of what actually drives American policy-making….
Gilens’s and Page’s analysis suggests that we need a lot more research on “Economic Elite Domination” and “Biased Pluralism.” Stronger empirical tests of the political influence of economic elites will require better evidence regarding the political preferences and activities of wealthy Americans.
Boy howdy, that’s not good. Well, I guess to solve a problem, you first have to correctly identify it (and it does put the notion that unions and lazy workers are calling the shots to the lie, doesn’t?).
For kicks, let’s end with a poll: