This story isn’t exactly new, but it’s worth revisiting in the light of current events.
Nearly two years ago, a couple of professors at Princeton announced that, after studying the relationship between public opinion and political activity at various income levels and the way our government makes laws and takes action, they had concluded that the US was “no longer a democracy.” News reports of their story were quick to say that the researchers’ work showed that America is now an “oligarchy,” but they themselves shied away from that phrase, preferring to call our system “Economic Elite Domination” and “Biased Pluralism.” In an interview, study author Martin Gillens explained that this means that
contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences of those groups — of economic elites and of organized interests.
Sahil Kapur, who conducted the interview for “Talking Points Memo,” asked several other questions that are worth quoting:
When did things start to become this way?
It’s possible that in earlier eras, that we don’t have data for, that things were better. But in the time period that we do have data for, there’s certainly no such evidence. Over time responsiveness to elites has grown.
Another question was
Which party, Democrat or Republican, caters to the interests of the rich more? Does your research find them to be equal or is one more responsive than the other?
We didn’t look at that in this paper. Other work I’ve done suggest it depends. There are a set of economic issues on which the Democratic party is more consistently supportive of the needs of the poor and middle class. But it’s by no means a strong relationship. Both parties have to a large degree embraced a set of policies that reflect the needs, preferences and interests of the well to do.