Al Jazeera America Features Discussion of Gilens' Work on Policy Influence of Wealthy
Work by Martin Gilens, Professor of Politics and member of the CSDP Executive Committee, and Benjamin Page of Northwestern, was discussed in an Al Jazeera piece on How ordinary Americans can influence policy – no super PAC required:
"Recently, Benjamin Page and Gilens disturbed many Americans with their finding that “average citizens’ preferences have little or no independent impact on policy.” Their data suggest that the wealthy have 15 times the influence of the middle class.
As remarkable as this conclusion is, many of the reporters discussing the study failed to read it carefully and missed other important findings. For example, Page and Gilens found that the preferences of elites actually correlate fairly well to the preferences of the average citizen (with a coefficient of 0.78, with 1.0 indicating exact alignment and –1.0 reflecting inverse correlation), whereas business groups have preferences that are far more divergent (–0.10). Public interest groups, such as unions and the American Association of Retired Persons, correlate slightly better with the interests of the average voter (0.12). However, pro-business groups, whose interests largely conflict with the average voter’s, have about nine times the influence as typical voters.
In an e-mail, Page noted that the U.S. might get some “democracy by coincidence” — meaning that the preferences of the affluent for the most part align with those of the middle class — but such luck rarely occurs with the preferences of business groups. He also said that while his work with Gilens focuses on the top 10 percent of income earners, the top 1 percent and the top 0.1 percent may have even more influence and more divergent preferences as well. In a paper with Jason Seawright and Larry Bartels, Gilens showed that the top 1 percent have far different preferences and are far more likely to be politically active. This means that reformers must curb the influence of the superwealthy and corporate lobbying."