True democracy requires that all citizens, not just the powerful or well off, be able to exert influence on the policy making process. In practice, however, the principle of one-person, one-vote may fall well short of guaranteeing equal influence. Particularly at a time of rising economic inequality, when money is ever more necessary for electoral success, there is reason to worry that the preferences of the wealthy may come increasingly to dominate the selection of policies that are enacted into law.
Political scientist Martin Gilens has compiled data from numerous political surveys between 1981 and 2002 asking Americans their opinion of specific policy issues. Breaking down these responses by the income and educational attainment of the respondents, he found that the policy preferences of high income groups are significantly related to subsequent policy outcomes, while the preferences of middle income Americans are barely related to what laws end up being enacted. Now with support from the Foundation, Gilens will expand on his data set and write up his research results in a Russell Sage volume. The book will look at why biases in government responsiveness emerge, how they have changed, and how they are impacted by other political or demographic factors. The book will also present case studies exploring the way in which the enactment of particular policies appears to be the result of preferences by a specific segment of the electorate.
Reports and Publications
- Gilens, Martin. 2005. "Inequality and Democratic Responsiveness in the United States," Public Opinion Quarterly 69 (5): 778-796. (PDF)