U.S. government policies reflect the desires of the wealthy and interest groups more than the average citizen, according to researchers at Princeton University and Northwestern University.
"[W]e believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened," write Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page in an April 9 article posted on the Princeton website and scheduled for fall publication in the journal Perspectives on Politics.
Gilens and Page analyzed 1,779 policy issues from 1981 to 2002 and compared changes to the preferences of median-income Americans, the top-earning 10 percent, and organized interest groups and industries.
"Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all," the researchers write in the article titled, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens."
Affluent Americans, however, "have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy," Gilens and Page write. Organized interest groups also "have a large, positive, highly significant impact upon public policy."
The research supports the theories of Economic Elite Domination, which says policy outcomes are influenced by those with wealth who often own businesses, and Biased Pluralism, which says policy outcomes "tend to tilt towards the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations."
"The estimated impact of average citizens’ preferences drops precipitously, to a non-significant, near-zero level," the researchers write. "Clearly the median citizen or 'median voter' at the heart of theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy does not do well when put up against economic elites and organized interest groups."
The study found that average citizens and the wealthy often seek the same policy changes. As Gawker notes, the researchers say this is a mere coincidence, noting the average American's interests will be represented if they are in line with the interests of the wealthy.
Interest groups would seemingly represent the interests of the average citizen -- and some do, the study says. But, "all mass-based groups taken together simply do not add up, in aggregate, to good representatives of the citizenry as a whole," researchers write.
(h/t Political Wire)