Today, the idea of popular democracy seems more fairytale than fact. It feels more like government of the rich people, by the rich people, for the rich people. But a study of 1,779 policy outcomes over two decades has come to a stark conclusion: it’s official – the collective opinion of ordinary citizens doesn’t matter.
The study ‘Affluence and Influence’, conducted by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page concludes 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.”
So is this just an inflated statement to make more nuanced findings more sexy to news editors? Sadly not.
The statistical analysis revealed that the collective views of ordinary Americans have a negligible impact on the policies rolled out by government. In fact, the collective sentiments of the economic elite (defined here as the richest 10%) are 15 times as important.
As Kevin Drum writes for Mother Jones:
When the preferences of interest groups and the affluent are held constant, it just doesn’t matter what average folks think about a policy proposal. When average citizens are opposed, there’s a 30 percent chance of passage. When average citizens are wildly in favor, there’s still only a 30 percent chance of passage. Conversely, the odds of passage go from zero when most of the affluent are opposed to more than 50 percent when most of the affluent are in favor.