Study: Americans Have No Voice in their Government

A new study, authored by two university professors, find that corporate interests and wealthy individuals control policy making so much that “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

Titled “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” the study analyzes nearly 1,800 policy issues, comparing public opinion on each to the preferences of heavily financed lobbying when determining the final result of legislation. This research, says historian Allan J. Lichtman, is “shattering” and “should be a loud wake-up call to the vast majority of Americans who are bypassed by their government.”

“By contrast,” the study notes, “economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy.” Likewise, the authors write, “interest group alignments are estimated to have a large, positive, highly significant impact upon public policy.”

They conclude: “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.”

Broad-based public engagement in the policy making process is important, and the concentrated power of a elite few is concerning. However, America is technically not, and should not become, a “democracy.” Public opinion often shifts—and dramatically so—depending on celebrity causes, current events, media focus, and other influences. Binding the law to the majority’s ever-changing whims is a recipe for societal instability.

While public policy should be insulated from public opinion, it should be an across-the-board deterrent—deep-pocketed parties should not be treated differently, nor their interests enacted merely because of their power, wealth, or access. Of course, as the study notes, this is the reality of politics in America. The voice of the individual is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant.

This is particularly frustrating because monied interests ensure, through their involvement, that the negative impact of the law upon them will be minimized, if not altogether neutralized. In many cases, the law benefits them through punishing their competition, providing them with money, or granting other government favors. Individuals, who bear the brunt of the law, have almost no voice in affecting policy to reduce that burden.

The study’s authors write that “majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.” This won’t come as a shock to anybody remotely familiar with the political process. The question we all face is how best to change this trend.

Last year we launched a new citizen engagement effort to address this issue: the Citizen Sponsorship Project. Participants become engaged in the process, here in Utah, by focusing on a piece of legislation, lobbying legislators, and testifying in committee to share their thoughts. Our hope is, over time, that more individuals will develop and act upon a desire to fight for necessary change.

  • davidmpark

    Always thought this was true. Good to have a study for some confirmation. This is probably where the parable of the Woman and the Unjust Judge comes into play.

  • joshua bales

    Where is progressive America? We need green jobs that pay a living wage and are available to everyone not just well to do student interns that are underpaid by penny pinching non profits and restrictive government programs. Natural science should be all inclusive and welcoming to everyone but instead is marketed as a childish interest or reserved for college students. There should be natural science certifications available to fast track people that are interested in eco stewardship and conservation not a stone wall. The american government is guilty of gross negligence and corruption for not equating entry level wages with entry level housing and cost of living, they take their illegal bribes from the rich investors and turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to everyone else which creates homelessness, stress related illnesses, addictions, violence, mass incarcerations, premature deaths and unforetold suffering. Which brings us to big pharma who preys on the vulnerable members{veterans and low income} of society with poison prescriptions who have been made sick by an overstressed and toxic environment. Which is why we have drug test to persecute the open minded cannabis culture which in lot of ways represents progressive ideals. Street drugs, scripts, and alcohol are out of a users system in a few days but the most benign of mind altering substances, Cannabis remains for a month or more. Drugs test should be based on probable cause and be efficient enough to determine active thc not dormant levels that discriminate otherwise functional well intended individuals out of a living dooming them unjustly to poverty wage labor, simply because they prefer cannabis to toxic alcohol for recreation in ones PRIVATE life! Too many beer breweries, the majority of people in Asheville and maybe the country as a whole would prefer to have access to legal cannabis and less invasive and unfair drug screening practices by employers and DOT. If america could accomplish this progressive agenda it will improve quality of life for everyone and provide the opportunity to hold the real criminals accountable. Or maybe America will remain a trashy country full of trashy people, the trailer park of developed nations until it implodes.