Testing Theories of American Politics
July 10, 2017
The United States political system has come a long way in the last 241 years. It’s easy to forget that we started with a system that gave only white, land-owning men the right to vote, and even they weren’t allowed to vote for members of the U.S. Senate until the 17th amendment was ratified in 1913. Before then, Senators were elected by state legislators.
What began as a Representative Republic has slowly morphed into something much more democratic. Democracy was a dirty word to the founders. James Madison, one of the main framers of the Constitution, considered the main function of government to be “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” 241 years later, democracy has become a core American principle for which many of us are willing to fight.
So, have we won the fight for democracy? Most people think not, and according to Princeton Political Scientist, Martin Gilens, they’re right. In fact, we still have a good deal of the battle ahead of us. Gilens conducted a study in September of 2014 titled “Testing Theories of American Politics,” in which he quantified to what extent certain groups are being represented in matters of public policy.
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He did this by comparing nearly 2,000 examples of public policy from the past few decades with the attitudes of four different groups: average citizens, economic elites, mass public interest groups, and business interest groups. What he found was disheartening, to say the least:
“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.”
To quote Noam Chomsky, “Our only real hope for democracy is that we get the money out of politics and establish a system of publicly funded elections.”
There are literally thousands of candidates who want to make the necessary changes but they can’t get funding, and people don’t want to vote for someone they don’t think can win. But, if this study means anything, it means that a vote for someone who isn’t willing to overturn Citizens United, establish a system of publicly funded elections, and put an end to partisan gerrymandering, is a vote that’s been terribly wasted.