New research confirms ordinary folk have little to no influence over policymaking, while elites have lots of power

Implications of findings clear – “Reduce the power of money in politics”

No 1040 Posted by fw, April 27, 2014

“Is the U.S. the democracy it claims to be? A study finds that moneyed interests and big business call most of the shots in U.S. public policy and the average citizen has very little say.” Carey L. Biron

Although the study is US-based, the findings likely apply to Canada and other so-called western “democracies”, now variously labelled by critics as trending towards “oligarchies”, “plutocracies”, and “corporatocracies”.

To read the complete original article, click on the following linked title. Alternatively, below is a significantly abridged, and modified version with bulleted points, added subheadings of main ideas and text highlighting to facilitate browsing and reading for selective purposes.

Average U.S. Citizens Have “Little Or No” Influence On Government Policy by Carey L. Biron, Mint Press, April 27, 2014

Findings of study are “stark”

WASHINGTON — U.S. public policy is almost exclusively dominated by monied interests and big business, according to new research, while most of the rest of the country, including advocacy groups working on behalf of a broad spectrum of populist issues, have remarkably little sway over the policymaking process.

Professors at Princeton and Northwestern have sifted through two decades’ worth of data to offer perhaps the most detailed analysis to date of the United States’ modern claim to being a democracy. The results, they say, are stark.

“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,” according to the research paper by Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Professor Benjamin I. Page.

“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 paper is slated for publication in an upcoming issue of Perspectives on Politics, a peer-reviewed journal.

Research method

Gilens and Page reviewed nearly 2,000 national surveys conducted between 1981 and 2002 that touched on hundreds of public policy changes concerning “matters of relatively high salience, about which it is plausible that average citizens may have real opinions and may exert some political influence.” The researchers correlated the responses in terms of respondents’ income, then figured out how often different groups’ preferred policies were implemented.

Main findings

    • They found, first, that the rich and poor see many policy proposals from roughly the same perspective.
    • However, the data is more interesting when their views diverge. Gilens and Page report that policies lacking broad support among the rich are only implemented around 18 percent of the time. On the other hand, proposals supported by the elite are adopted more than twice as often, some 45 percent of the time.
    • Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all,” the paper states.
    • By contrast, economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy … In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule – at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”

Recommendations

    • Although the paper does not offer specific recommendations for policymakers, Benjamin Page told MintPress News that the data indicate a clear need to weaken the impact of money in politics and to strengthen the mechanisms of direct citizen control over the gears of government.
    • “Reduce the power of money in politics!” he wrote in an e-mail, noting that new rules are needed to mandate “full disclosure of donations and limits on lobbying.” He also urged a reversal of recent Supreme Court decisions that have lifted longstanding limits on political contributions by both individuals and corporations.
    • “Also, make politicians compete for votes,” Page continued.
    • “End the partisan gerrymandering of one-party districts, and
    • mix all districts so that party balance is close.
    • End one-party primaries and hold all elections, including primaries, on visible dates, with easy voting – for instance, through election holidays.”

Income inequality contributes to power differential between haves and have-nots

When looking at policy issues involving starkly divergent views between average U.S. citizens and economic or business elites, it is hard to find more poignant current debates than those involving CEO compensation and the minimum wage.

Last week, the AFL-CIO, a major union umbrella, released new findings showing that CEOs at the largest U.S. corporations were paid 331 times more than average workers last year. Those corporate heads were also paid some 774 times what minimum-wage workers received. These comparisons represent historically high levels of economic inequality.

While President Barack Obama has recently started trying to make the question of raising the federal minimum wage into a defining issue of his second term, the fact is that such action is long overdue by any standard. During the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, for instance, protesters demanded a minimum wage that would translate to more than $13 an hour today.

Indeed, even if the federal government had continued to update the minimum wage over the past half-century merely to keep up with inflation, this rate would today be $10 an hour. Instead, the current federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 an hour, one of the lowest in any developed country. And while President Obama has formally supported a modest rise to $9 an hour, all such proposals currently remain non-starters in Congress, evidently due to strong pushback from business groups.

Still, public support for an increase in the minimum wage is strong. According to polling carried out last year for the National Employment Law Project, 80 percent of adults in the U.S. support a $10.10 minimum wage — a figure that received strong backing from all demographic and ideological categories.

Carey L. Biron is Washington correspondent for MintPress and for Inter Press News focusing on issues of equity and accountability, environmental and corporate regulation, and international development and governance from Capitol Hill. Carey spent much of the past 15 years covering South and Southeast Asia as a radio and print reporter and editor.

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