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Study: American Democracy ‘Seriously Threatened’

Posted on Aug 27, 2014


A pair of researchers have a handy tip for those Americans still attached to the notion that we live in a representative democracy: Get ready to kiss that notion goodbye.

Also read: The Last Gasp of American Democracy

Princeton University’s Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University have released a study, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” and let’s just say the latter most group in that title comes in last place in the pecking order in contemporary American politics, too. Basically, the study’s authors conclude, we live in an oligarchy (via Talking Points Memo):

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.


This latest scholarly buzzkill isn’t likely to come as a shock to many in these doublespeak days of “Citizens United” and “corporate personhood,” but the trend reaches further back than the millennial generation’s earliest memories. Here’s what Gilens and Page have to say at the conclusion of their article:

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.

Read their study in full here.

—Posted by Kasia Anderson 


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