Is America An Oligarchy Instead of A Democracy? A Major Study Says The Answer Is (Unfortunately) “YES”

Ever since the United States Congress passed and President Obama signed the so-called “Dark Act” (S.B. 764) that essentially prevents any meaningful labeling for food products that contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), I can’t help but think about that Princeton and Northwestern academic study on American Democracy published in September 2014.

Why? As I posted in a prior ET Food Advocate blog — How Legislation Is Opposed By 9 Out Of 10 Americans Becomes The Law In Our Country — regardless of where you stood on the issue of GMO labeling, it was amazing to see how a piece of legislation that is well documented in wide spread public opposition still becomes the law in the United States.

And since we are in an important and historic election season, it’s time to write about that Princeton and Northwestern Study.

The study, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, reviewed extensive data from 1981 to 2002 and reviewed close to 1,800 U.S. Government policies during that time period. The study concluded that even if an overwhelming majority of average citizens support any particular issue, the average citizens influence on U.S. policy making is “near zero”.   The study concludes that “Economic Elites” and “Business Interest Groups” have enormous power to pass favorable legislation despite vast public opposition and even greater power to block legislation with vast public support.

To quote the Study:

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. (Emphasis Added)

The influence of money in politics and in lobbying is considered the source of the loss of representative democracy in our country. This is not a new allegation but has become increasingly troubling since the Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission which now permits unlimited secret money go into U.S. political and judicial campaigns.

Former President Jimmy Carter, when asked his opinion of the Citizens and the McCutcheon decisions stated:

It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or being elected president. And the same thing applies to governors, and U.S. Senators and congress members. So, now we’ve just seen a subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect, and sometimes get, favors for themselves after the election is over.

One of the nation’s largest “grassroots” anti-corruption campaign, Represent.Us has produced a short and compelling video that explains the Princeton/Northwestern Study in support of its goal to pass better anti-corruption laws around the United States:

There is some debate about the Princeton/Northwestern Study. John Cassidy notes in his The New Yorker magazine commentary, Is America An Oligarchy?, in a statistical sense, that the “explanatory power” of some of the equations is “weak”.

But as Cassidy observes:

There can be no doubt that economic élites have a disproportionate influence in Washington, or that their views and interests distort policy in ways that don’t necessarily benefit the majority: the politicians all know this, and we know it, too. The only debate is about how far this process has gone, and whether we should refer to it as oligarchy or as something else.

And as we vote in the coming weeks, the worst thing we can do, no matter how far the process has gone — is to give up on the process.

Never give up.


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