3 Reasons the U.S. May Not Be a Democracy

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Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page are two academics that have everyone abuzz with their new study, “Testing Theories of American Politics.” It is from this data that so many publications are drawing the claim that the United States is, in fact, an Oligarchy rather than a Democracy. Gilens and Page never actually come out and say this of course. The word Oligarchy is never used, but the inference is no great leap — and here’s why.

1. Money Matters Most

The study compares the influence different groups of Americans have on policy changes; basically, which interests matter more? The answer, according to Gilens and Page, is quite clearly that money matters most. They say that, “Both individual economic elites and organized interest groups … play a substantial part in affecting public policy [while] the general public has little or no independent influence.” Of course, the goals and preferences of elites and average citizens often line up rather conveniently, however, when this is not the case, elite opinions win out hands down.

This has obvious implications when it comes to political strength and equality, as Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow with the Center for American Progress and co-director for the Center and the American Enterprise Institute. In a piece for The New York Times, he noted that if policies are based largely on elite opinion, those that would “worsen economic inequality but are supported by elites and business” are likely to pass regardless of effect on others, or opinions of lower and middle class Americans. This means that the power balance as it stands would reenforce itself as wealthier Americans choose policies that benefit their own positions, and those policies disproportionately pass in favor of others.

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