If the Rich Already Control Politics, Does the Supreme Court’s Ruling on Contributions Make Any Real Difference?

Bob McConnell and Len Rothe are introduced as admirals at the opening day of the Seattle Yacht Club in 2013. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Bob McConnell and Len Rothe are introduced as admirals at the opening day of the Seattle Yacht Club in 2013. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The hand-wringing over the Supreme Court’s repeal of overall campaign contribution caps is a bit like worrying about how the Titanic will fare now that its night watchman has evacuated to a lifeboat. The wealthy and business interests already drive policy and command more attention from politicians. What possible difference could another few million dollars make?

“Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” a study published in Perspectives on Politics this week suggests, “while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” The study, written by Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, looked at 1,779 policy issues between 1981 and 2002, testing the extent to which different groups influenced passage of policy. “[T]he collective preferences of ‘economic elites’ (roughly proxied by citizens at the 90th percentile of the income distribution) were 15 times as important” as those of ordinary citizens, as Larry Bartels writes at The Washington Post.

It’s probably easier to visualize. We took the graphs included with the study and simplified them. The red line shows the correlation between support for a policy by average citizens and its chance of passage. The black line does the same for those elites.

“The probability of policy change is nearly the same (around 0.3) whether a tiny minority or a large majority of average citizens favor a proposed policy change,” the study’s authors write. “By contrast … a proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favor) is adopted only about 18 percent of the time, while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favor) is adopted about 45 percent of the time.”

Click here to continue reading… 

The Wire

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