Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens

Source: Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, Perspectives on Politics (forthcoming), March 7, 2014

Who governs? Who really rules? To what extent is the broad body of U.S. citizens sovereign, semi-sovereign, or largely powerless? These questions have animated much important work in the study of American politics. … The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. … In what follows, we briefly review the four theoretical traditions that form the framework for our analyses and highlight some of the most prominent empirical research associated with each. We then describe our data and measures and present our results. We conclude by discussing the implications of our work for understanding American democracy and by identifying some of the directions for future research that our findings suggest…