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Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014
 

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'Insights With Martin Gilens'



Professor Martin Gilens discusses his findings about the influence of the affluent over government policy. Read more.


Video Closed Captions

[MUSIC PLAYING]

MICHAEL HOTCHKISS: How long ago
did you start this?

MARTIN GILENS: It was
before I got here.

I'd say about a decade.

MARTIN GILENS: So it has been
a long-term endeavour.

MICHAEL HOTCHKISS: So, you sort of touched on this, but

if you were to
just sort of summarize the

basic question that you're
trying to answer in the book,

what is that question?

MARTIN GILENS: The basic
question is do affluent

Americans have dominance over
the shape of government policy

making, and is that more
true now than it was

a few decades ago?

MICHAEL HOTCHKISS: So how did you go
about answering your question?

MARTIN GILENS: I collected
survey questions that had been

asked of national samples of
Americans, over a period of

many of decades.

And those questions asked people
whether they would

support or oppose specific
changes in

federal government policy.

And then I had an army of
research assistants code

whether the proposed changes
that the survey questions

referred to were, in
fact, adopted.

And with those data, and as I
put together a massive data

set with all that information,
with that I was able to assess

the probability that a change
in government policy would

take place, depending on how
much support or opposition it

had among lower or
middle-class or

higher-income Americans.

MICHAEL HOTCHKISS: So what are your
most important findings?

MARTIN GILENS: So the most
important findings are first,

that the degree of inequality
in influence over government

policy is enormous.

When preferences diverge, so
when the policy preferences of

the affluent differ from those
of the middle class or of the

poor, that what you see is
substantial influence by

affluent Americans over policy
outcomes, and essentially no

influence by people
with less income.

MICHAEL HOTCHKISS: And why
does that matter?

MARTIN GILENS: Well, it matters
for two reasons.

One is it matters in sort of a
broad, sort of abstract sense

in that to be a democracy means
that all citizens have

some ability to influence
the choices that

the government makes.

But in a more practical sense,
it matters because the

specific policies that result
from the influence of

different groups shape people's
lives in immensely

important ways.

MICHAEL HOTCHKISS: So what's your take
away from these findings?

MARTIN GILENS: There's
a few things.

So one would be to look at
campaign finance reforms.

In addition, because one of the
things that I found was

that political competition
seems to enhance

responsiveness of government to
the public and makes that

responsiveness more equal, that
other sorts of reforms,

which enhance political
competition, could help to

ameliorate the unequal
representation that I

show in this book.

And then the third way that this
could be addressed is to

focus on those sorts of policies
where affluent

Americans and less well-off
Americans agree, or at least

agree more.

And so things like government
support for education gets

strong support, even for people
at the top of the

income distribution.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

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