Where might the Left and the Tea Party find common ground that provides fusion in the future, assuming that the Don’t-Tread-On-Me crowd truly do split their voting block from the GOP? Perhaps, if a new study from Princeton and Northwestern is to be believed, such a fusion might be borne from Fighting The Man.
Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, a new study by the Fightin’ Tigers’ Martin Gilens and the Fightin’ Wildcats’ Benjamin Page, claims to have proved (to the extent that such a thing can ever be proved) that Democracy no longer exists in the United States. Rather, it finds that we are ruled by an oligarchy of elites that controls a system which exists for no other purpose than to cater to the interests of those same elites.
From the report’s abstract:
Each of four theoretical traditions in the study of American politics – which can be characterized as theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic Elite Domination, and two types of interest group pluralism, Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased Pluralism – offers different predictions about which sets of actors have how much influence over public policy: average citizens; economic elites; and organized interest groups, mass-based or business-oriented.
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. This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.
Who governs? Who really rules? To what extent is the broad body of U.S. citizens sovereign, semi-sovereign, or largely powerless? These questions have animated much important work in the study of American politics…
The central point that emerges from our research is 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. Our 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…
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.
The study also cautions that more research is needed to determine exactly who and what this oligarchy is:
Leaving aside the difficult issue of divergent interests and motives, 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.
Our findings also point toward the need to learn more about exactly which economic elites (the “merely affluent”? the top 1%? the top 0.01%?) have how much impact upon public policy, and to what ends they wield their influence. Similar questions arise about the precise extent of influence of particular sets of organized interest groups. And we need to know more about the policy preferences and the political influence of various actors not considered here, including political party activists, government officials, and other non-economic elites. We hope that our work will encourage further exploration of these issues.
If you’re like me, this report draws a number of visceral reactions, ranging from “Well, duh!” to “Holy crap!” to “Grab the torches and pitchforks!” It also suggests that the recent SCOTUS rulings concerning the conflation of money and free speech — and, potentially, the possible victory of the “civil rights” of corporations over the personal healthcare choices of employees — might be as large and loud a harbinger as those on the fringes claim.
As state branches of the GOP begin to slide over to the liberal side of hot-button social issues such as abortion (Nevada’s GOP) and same-sex marriage (Nevada and Oregon’s GOP), and as the GOP faces the seemingly insurmountable task of overcoming the hole they’ve dug themselves with non-whites and women, I can’t help but wonder if we might see a seismic shift in our political alignments over the next decade or two. As I’ve noted before, the lines of inequality disparity can only cross so far on the graph before something snaps. Indeed, we’re already seeing those same billionaires who control the system begin to construct their own battlements. Venture capitalist Tom Perkins, in a public letter to the Wall Street Journal, called the elite to banner just 90 days ago:
“Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.”
After he made this comment, the press referred to him as both “billionaire” and “venture capitalist,” but it bears noting that Perkins is considerably more. He is presumed to be one of the largest political contributors in the country, and until recently he sat on the notably small Board of Directors of the world’s largest news organization.
It just doesn’t seem to me to be so unthinkable that populists from both sides of the spectrum find that “the enemy of my enemy is a convenient voting block for some upcoming midterm.”
Past crystal ball gazing, however, I’m curious to know what the Hive Mind thinks of the Princeton-Northwestern report.