“America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”
That’s the startling claim in a provocative new study by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University.
Many of us like to believe that popular opinion influences policymakers, at least indirectly. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. “The general public has little or no independent influence” on policymaking, the two political scientists found.
Instead, Gilens and Page found that “economic elites” have a “quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy.” Groups representing business interests are the next most powerful influence on policymakers. Sometimes, those two groups are aligned on an issue—they both tend to prefer low taxes, for instance--which generates the highest likelihood of government action.
The complex study examined 1,779 public policy issues between 1981 and 2002, including the policy preferences of middle-income people, the wealthy,