Research Reveals: US an Oligarchy Not a Democracy and Is Not Universally Loved
February 29, 2016
BBC & The Pew Research Center
The US is dominated by a rich and powerful elite, so concludes a Princeton University study. The wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.
Study: US Is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy
(April 17, 2014) -- The US is dominated by a rich and powerful elite. So concludes a recent study by Princeton University Prof Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof Benjamin I Page.
This is not news, you say.
Perhaps, but the two professors have conducted exhaustive research to try to present data-driven support for this conclusion. Here's how they explain it:
Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.
The wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power.
The two professors came to this conclusion after reviewing answers to 1,779 survey questions asked between 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels and organised interest groups saw their policy preferences enacted.
"A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favour) is adopted only about 18% of the time," they write, "while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favour) is adopted about 45% of the time."
On the other hand:
When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.
Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.
Eric Zuess, writing in Counterpunch, isn't surprised by the survey's results:
"American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it's pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation's "news" media)," he writes. "The US, in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious 'electoral' 'democratic' countries. We weren't formerly, but we clearly are now."
This is the "Duh Report", says Death and Taxes magazine's Robyn Pennacchia. Maybe, she writes, Americans should just accept their fate.
"Perhaps we ought to suck it up, admit we have a classist society and do like England where we have a House of Lords and a House of Commoners," she writes, "instead of pretending as though we all have some kind of equal opportunity here."
The Contradictions of the American Electorate
Eric Zuesse / CounterPunch
(April 15, 2014) -- Pollingreport.com has the results of hundreds of recent polls on just about every political subject imaginable; and the results on the vast majority of the polling questions produce liberal responses. . . .
On the vast majority of polled questions, Americans show that they favor the liberal or Democratic position, and oppose the conservative or Republican position.
If the public were rational, Democrats would overwhelmingly control the US Government. Even on polled support or self-identification by voters regarding the two Parties, Democrats have always had a lead, usually a substantial lead.
On 8 January 2014, Gallup bannered "Record-High 42% of Americans Identify as Independents: Republican identification lowest in at least 25 years," and reported that, "Republican identification fell to 25%, the lowest over that time span. At 31%, Democratic identification is unchanged from the last four years but down from 36% in 2008."
However, Republicans win most "elections"; and most predictions for this November are for Republicans to win control in the Senate and expand their control in the House. Why is this?
On January 10th, Gallup bannered, "Liberal Self-Identification Edges Up to New High in 2013," and reported that 38% of Americans self-identified as "Conservative," and only 23% self-identified as "Liberal." 43% of Democrats said they were "Liberal," but 70% of Republican self-identified as "Conservative." Ever since Ronald Reagan, conservative self-identification is much stronger.
For decades, most voters self-describe as "Conservative" and yet most voters also self-describe as "Democrat," though those two identities oppose each other, and though Americans are actually overwhelmingly liberal on the issues.
So, perhaps one explanation for Republicans winning most political contests is that most Americans are voting their ideological self-identity instead of their Party self-identity and their actual policy-positions and policy-values -- which are liberal.
If that's so, then one might say that the conservative mystique ever since the time of Ronald Reagan overwhelms voters' Party affiliation and policy-positions and thus determines their actual voting, more than anything rational actually does.
Perhaps part of this conundrum is also a result of Americans being heavily inundated with conservative propaganda from the aristocracy, who are overwhelmingly conservative.
For example, a study . . . in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, finds that the US is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, ruled by an aristocracy, so that the answer to the study's opening question, "Who governs? Who really rules?" in this country, is:
"Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, . . . " and then they go on to say, it's not true, and that:
"America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened" by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead "the nearly total failure of 'median voter' and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America].
"When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."
To put it short: The United States is no democracy, but actually an oligarchy.
The authors of this historically important study are Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, and their article is titled "Testing Theories of American Politics." The authors clarify that the data available are probably under-representing the actual extent of control of the US by the super-rich:
"Economic Elite Domination theories do rather well in our analysis, even though our findings probably understate the political influence of elites.
"Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans -- though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases -- is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups.
"Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater."
Nonetheless, this is the first-ever scientific study of the question of whether the US is a democracy. "Until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions [that US policymaking operates as a democracy, versus as an oligarchy, versus as some mixture of the two] against each other within a single statistical model.
This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues." That's an enormous number of policy-issues studied.
What the authors are able to find, despite the deficiencies of the data, is important: the first-ever scientific analysis of whether the US is a democracy, or is instead an oligarchy, or some combination of the two.
The clear finding is that the US is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all. American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it's pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation's "news" media).
The US, in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious "electoral" "democratic" countries. We weren't formerly, but we clearly are now. Today, after this exhaustive analysis of the data, "the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." That's it, in a nutshell.
And that's why most Americans are actually liberals who call themselves conservatives and who vote for conservative politicians that favor policies and values those voters actually oppose.
Are most voters mental zombies who are actually manipulated by oligarchs? That seems to describe today's American "democracy."
Eric Zuesse is an investigative historian and the author, most recently, of They're Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010 and of Christ's Ventriloquists: The Event that Created Christianity.
Which Countries Don't like America and Which Do
Bruce Stokes / The Pew Research Center
(July 15, 2014) -- France makes the list of top 10 fans of the US and Germany makes the list of the top 10 critics.
A decade ago anti-Americanism was on the rise around the world, in large part thanks to public opposition to the US invasion of Iraq.
Today, despite recent revelations of US National Security Agency spying on foreign leaders and global opposition to US drone strikes, there is little evidence of profound anti-Americanism except in a handful of countries, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of 44 nations.
Foreigners' love affair with the United States remains strong in Africa and most of Asia, Europe and Latin America. But who likes Uncle Sam, who doesn't and whose affections are evolving paints a pretty accurate road map of the overseas challenges facing Washington in the years ahead.
Anti-Americanism is particularly strong today in the Middle East. In Egypt only 10% of the public favor the United States, which long backed the regime of Hosni Mubarak and failed to oppose the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government that succeeded him. Support is not much higher in Jordan (12%) and Turkey (19%), both countries that are notionally Washington's allies.
Those not-so-warm feelings for America have fallen 17 percentage points in Egypt and 13 points in Jordan since 2009, the first year of the Obama administration, when there appeared to be some hope in those nations that Uncle Sam would pursue policies more to their liking.
In addition, less than a quarter of Russians (23%) have a positive view of America, whose image is down 28 points in just the last year, a casualty of Washington's opposition to Moscow's intervention in Ukraine.
But there are still corners of the world where America is held in high regard. In European countries surveyed, half or more of the publics in seven of nine nations say they see the US in a positive light. Top of the list are Italians (78%), French (75%) and Poles (73%).
Only in Germany, where US favorability is down 13 points since 2009, has the positive image of the United States slipped significantly. And, despite this slippage, roughly half of Germans (51%) still see America favorably.
Asians are also pro-American. In fact, the Filipinos are the biggest fans of the US; 92% express a positive view. South Koreans (82%), Bangladeshis (76%) and Vietnamese (76%) also agree.
Even half the Chinese give Uncle Sam a thumbs up. However, Pakistanis (14%) share no love for the United States (but neither do Americans have much affection for Pakistan).
The US is also feeling the love from Latin America, where majorities see the US in a favorable light in eight of nine countries surveyed.
Salvadorans (80%) are particularly positive in their assessment, as are Chileans (72%) and Nicaraguans (71%). Notably, despite all the tensions between Washington and Caracas, more than six-in-ten Venezuelans have a favorable opinion of the US
And Africans express particularly positive views about America. Strong majorities in all seven nations surveyed back the United States, including roughly three-quarters or more of Kenyans (80%), Ghanaians (77%), Tanzanians (75%) and Senegalese (74%).
Our Global Indicators Database lets you explore public opinion in countries around the world on a range of issues and attitudes.
Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at Pew Research Center.
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