Frightening Policy Research Suggests that America Might Not Be a Democratic Society

It’s not your imagination. It’s for real; US policy is set by the elite for the elite, so say researchers Martin Gilens from Princeton and Benjamin I. Page from Northwestern in a recent peer-reviewed study.

Before conservatives get too invested in their consistently ridiculous knee-jerk reaction to blame the black guy for everything, the study used data from 1,800 policies that were enacted between the years of 1981 and 2002.

In Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, the researchers compared what average Americans wanted versus the elite and special interests (average being 50th percentile of income and elite being 90th) and guess who won? The Romneys of the US.

Indeed, the “connection between public policy and the preferences of the average citizen may indeed be largely or entirely spurious.”

Recent research by Larry Bartels and by one of the present authors (Gilens), which explicitly brings the preferences of “affluent” Americans into the analysis along with the preferences of those lower in the income distribution, indicates that the apparent connection between public policy and the preferences of the average citizen may indeed be largely or entirely spurious.

When the people want something, they usually lose. The elites get what they want.

Elites will tell you (and Republicans concur) that they know best. The rest of y’all are lazy. Let the “job creators” decide. We are supposed to trust that they will not be selfish and only do what serves them. They will look out for the people’s best interest, as all people with tremendous power do (sarcasm; absolute power corrupts absolutely).

The researchers don’t think the problem is that Americans aren’t informed or that the elite know best:

But we tend to doubt it. We believe instead that – collectively – ordinary citizens generally know their own values and interests pretty well, and that their expressed policy preferences are worthy of respect.50 Moreover, we are not so sure about the informational advantages of elites. Yes, detailed policy knowledge tends to rise with income and status.
 Surely wealthy Americans and corporate executives tend to know a lot about tax and regulatory policies that directly affect them. But how much do they know about the human impact of Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or unemployment insurance, none of which is likely to be crucial to their own well-being? Most important, we see no reason to think that informational expertise is always accompanied by an inclination to transcend one’s own interests or a determination to work for the common good.

Yes, the same people who call everyone else entitled are themselves entitled. It’s called projection.

“All in all, we believe that the public is likely to be a more certain guardian of its own interests than any feasible alternative.’

They suggest new research be done on “we would urge that the superior wisdom of economic elites or organized interest groups should not simply be assumed. It should be put to empirical test. New empirical research will be needed to pin down precisely who knows how much, and what, about which public policies.”

Until then, however, business and elites run policy making, which means that America might not actually be a democratic society:

Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we 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.

So now you have peer reviewed proof that the policies enacted between 1981 and 2002 were not a reflection of the people’s desires. With Citizens United and Too Big to Fail, things have only gotten worse, but that is not to say that there aren’t elected officials who actually care about people and are trying to pass legislation and advocating policy that is good for the majority of people in the country.

The trick is to use every vote we get, from local county races on up to the presidential race, as a reflection of our policy wishes.

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