Thursday, July 20, 2017

Major Political Science Study Confirms: Large Majority of Americans Have "Little or No Influence" Over Their Government

"A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. We report on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.

"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. (italics added)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 . . . 

"A final point: even in a bivariate, descriptive sense, our evidence indicates that the responsiveness of the U.S. political system when the general public wants government action is severely limited. Because of the impediments to majority rule that were deliberately built into the U.S. political system - federalism, separation of powers, bicameralism - together with further impediments due to anti-majoritarian congressional rules and procedures, the system has a substantial status quo bias. (italics added)Thus when popular majorities favor the status quo, opposing a given policy change, they are likely to get their way; but when a majority - even a very large majority - of the public favors change, it is not likely to get what it wants. In our 1,779 policy cases, narrow pro-change majorities of the public got the policy changes they wanted only about 30 percent of the time. More strikingly, even overwhelmingly large pro-change majorities, with 80 percent of the public favoring a policy change, got that change only about 43 percent of the time. 

"In any case, normative advocates of populistic democracy may not be enthusiastic about democracy by coincidence, in which ordinary citizens get what they want from government only when they happen to agree with elites or interest groups that are really calling the shots. When push comes to shove, actual influence matters. 

------"Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens," Marten Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, 2014 

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