Average "citizens' preferences" have a "non-significant, near-zero level" of influence on policy decisions while business interests exert considerable influence

January 15, 2016

 

 

What makes so many Americans feel robbed of democracy was confirmed in 2014 by two political scientists whose data revealed a stark reality Average "citizens' preferences" have a "non-significant, near-zero level" of influence on policy decisions while business interests exert considerable influence.

"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." (p.564)

"By directly pitting the predictions of ideal-type theories
against each other within a single statistical model (using
a unique data set that includes imperfect but useful
measures of the key independent variables for nearly two
thousand policy issues), we have been able to produce
some striking findings. One is the nearly total failure of
“median voter” and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy
theories. When the preferences of economic elites and
the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for,
the preferences of the average American appear to have
only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant
impact upon public policy" (p.575)

"Nor do organized interest groups substitute for direct
citizen influence, by embodying citizens’ will and ensuring
that their wishes prevail in the fashion postulated by
theories of Majoritarian Pluralism. Interest groups do have
substantial independent impacts on policy, and a few
groups (particularly labor unions) represent average citizens’
views reasonably well. But the interest-group system
as a whole does not. Overall, net interest-group alignments
are not significantly related to the preferences of average
citizens. The net alignments of the most influential,
business-oriented groups are negatively related to the
average citizen’s wishes. So existing interest groups do
not serve effectively as transmission belts for the wishes of
the populace as a whole. “Potential groups” do not take up
the slack, either, since average citizens’ preferences have
little or no independent impact on policy after existing
groups’ stands are controlled for.
Furthermore, the preferences of economic elites (as
measured by our proxy, the preferences of “affluent”
citizens) have far more independent impact upon policy
change than the preferences of average citizens do. To be
sure, this does not mean that ordinary citizens always
lose out; they fairly often get the policies they favor, but
only because those policies happen also to be preferred
by the economically-elite citizens who wield the actual
influence." (p.576)

Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens," American Political Science Association 12, no. 3 (2014), 564, 575-576, accessed January 15, 2016, doi:10.1017/S1537592714001595.

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