- Sean McElwee examines new evidence of the deliberate choice of past U.S. governments dating back to Ronald Reagan to completely discount the policy preferences of anybody but the rich:
In a new book, political scientists James Druckman and Lawrence Jacobs examine data on internal polling from U.S. presidential archives and other existing research to determine how presidents use their knowledge of public opinion to craft policies. What they found is disturbing: Presidents tend to focus on the opinions of the wealthy and well-connected insiders, ignoring the views of most of the electorate. This turns on its head the idea that elected officials in the United States are responsive to public opinion.
Druckman and Jacobs focused on how President Ronald Reagan created the modern conservative coalition using internal polling. He sought to unite political independents, high-income groups, social conservatives and economic conservatives. While all these groups had influence over the Reagan administration, high earners had the most pull.
A look at how frequently the administration gathered public opinion data on specific groups is even more revealing. The authors noted, “The Reagan team assembled little data on the middle- and lower-income groups as it focused intently on gathering information on the affluent.” In total, Reagan received cross-tabulations for the rich about 60 percent of the time, compared with only 32 percent for low-income people. And 84 percent of the information gathered on economic issues included data on the affluent, compared with only 24 percent examining the middle class and 36 percent on the poor. On Social Security, for example, Reagan never received cross-tabulations on the opinions of the poor or middle class.
The outsize influence of the wealthy also shows up in the priorities politicians give to competing policy agendas. In a recent study, political scientists William Franko and Patrick Flavin examined how policymakers respond to political priorities rather than to constituent preferences. Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that the rich and poor have different priorities and that policymakers are more attentive to the priorities of the wealthy. As shown in the chart below, the priorities are even more divergent on class issues such as the minimum wage and poverty.
Evidence continues to accumulate that the U.S. is fast becoming a plutocracy. Americans must fight to take back their democracy. One way to do that is by bolstering voter turnout. Voters who want more progressive policies should look at a recent research by Jonas Pontusson and David Rueda. “Left parties will respond to an increase in inequality only when low-income voters are mobilized,” they wrote, on the basis of their analysis of data from 10 countries over nearly 40 years. Limiting the influence of money in the political process would also improve representation.
For its part, the middle class needs organizations that push policies that benefit them. Unions could serve such a role by mobilizing the working class and advocating for policies that benefit workers. “Labor unions promote greater political equality primarily by mobilizing their working class members to political action,” according to Flavin. “States with higher levels of union membership weigh citizens’ opinions more equally in the policymaking process.”- Elise Gould, Alyssa Davis and Will Kimball make the case for wage growth to fight poverty and inequality, while Robert Freeman pushes education and fairer taxes to help the cause. But Matt Bruening responds that market income alone will have a limited effect on some of the people with the greatest needs.
- Aaron Wherry points out the election funding loopholes the Cons have deliberately opened up to increase what they're allowed to spend - and have reimbursed by the public - in an extended election campaign. Andrew Coyne laments that formal democratic structures have been almost completely stripped of their intended purpose, with Stephen Harper reaching new lows on that front. And Michael Harris criticizes the Cons' practice of government by fiat (accompanied by an utter refusal to answer for their actions).
- Finally, Darren Fleet highlights CSIS' alarming secrecy in response to a simple request for personal information as yet another reason for concern about C-51.