Affluence & Influence. Economic Inequality and Political Power in America. Martin Gilens. Department of Politics. Princeton University. Book review: Martin Gilens Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America and Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba and Henry. In Affluence and Influence, Martin Gilens explores the question of who gets represented in American democracy. The central thesis of the book.
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Can a country be a democracy if its government only responds to the preferences of the rich? In an ideal democracy, all citizens should have equal influence on government policy–but as this book demonstrates, America’s policymakers respond almost exclusively to the preferences of the economically advantaged.
Affluence and Influence definitively explores how political inequality in the United States has evolved over the last several decades and how this growing disparity has been shaped by interest groups, parties, and elections.
With sharp analysis and an impressive range of data, Martin Gilens looks at thousands of proposed policy changes, and the degree of support for each among poor, middle-class, and affluent Americans.
His findings are staggering: In contrast, affluent Americans’ preferences exhibit a substantial relationship with policy outcomes whether their preferences are shared by lower-income groups or not.
Gilens shows that representational inequality is spread widely across different policy domains and time periods. Yet Gilens also shows that under specific circumstances the preferences of the middle class and, to a lesser extent, the poor, do seem to matter. In particular, impending elections–especially presidential elections–and an even partisan division in Congress mitigate representational inequality and boost responsiveness to the preferences of the broader public.
At a time when economic and political inequality in the United States only continues to rise, Affluence and Influence raises important questions about whether American democracy is truly responding to the needs of all its citizens. Gilens’s years of careful empirical research and his impressively fair and clear presentation of evidence mark a major step forward in the scientific study of political inequality in America. Altschuler, Huffington Post “[F]ascinating. Gilens compiles a massive data set of public opinion surveys and subsequent policy outcomes, and reaches a shocking conclusion: Democracy has a strong tendency to simply supply the policies favored by the rich.
When the poor, the middle class, and the rich disagree, American democracy largely ignores the poor and the middle class. Especially impressive are his successful efforts at separating the influence of interest groups and political parties on policy outcomes from the influence of public opinion by economic class. His opening chapter on citizen competence and democratic decision making should be required reading for those who doubt the feasibility and value of a truly representative government.
This deservedly prize-winning book offers compelling new evidence that affluent Americans have much more influence than their fellow citizens and that this disparity is growing. That’s the inescapable conclusion of this incredibly powerful and beautifully written book. Too important for academics alone, this is required reading for any citizen, or anyone anywhere trying to understand how history’s most important democracy has lost its way.
With care and without cant, Gilens shows that we are very far from this ideal in contemporary American politics. The economically privileged don’t always get what they want. But, according to Gilen’s pioneering analysis, they are much more influential than those below them on the economic ladder. Affluence and Influence is a landmark in the study of representation.
Using public opinion and policy data in innovative ways, this eye-opening book explores the reasons for unequal government responsiveness to citizen preferences.
For anyone who cares about inequality and democracy in America, this book goes at the top of the reading list. The book shows how better-off Americans sway elections and get the laws they want.
If other citizens feel unrepresented, Gilens’s analysis could be a first step toward redress. It is the definitive statement to date on a big topic: Containing scrupulous analysis and well-supported claims, Affluence and Influence will have great scholarly impact and reach broad audiences concerned with American politics, public policy, and democratic theory.
Part of the novelty and richness of the book comes from its description of specific policy issues and cases, which provides a detailed and important picture of real-world American politics. Would you like to tell us about a lower price? If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
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Customers who bought this item also bought. Page 1 of 1 Start over Page 1 of 1. Why Americans Hate Welfare: Page, Northwestern University “This book addresses fundamental questions about equality and democratic responsiveness in the United States, and concludes that government policies are more responsive to affluent citizens than to others less well off.
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Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America by Martin Gilens
I don’t give this book five stars because I am upset about income inequality which I amgolens because the author offers statistical proof for practically all of his conclusions which he does.
I find the book unusual and important because unlike most academics Gilens does not present data confirming preconceived concepts or ideas. He wanted to find out how influential rich or poor people were on public policymaking and designed andd research to afgluence the facts rather than his opinions speak.
So beyond the unsurprising result that the afflyence exercise a vastly disproportionate influence he came up with many independent and sometimes counterintuitive results. He recognizes that if influence on government were more representative it would be more democratic. This is the justification for the call that comes up regularly to get rid of the electoral college and elect the President by pure popular vote.
Gilens recognizes that more democratic doesn’t guarantee better. The founding fathers were well aware of observations since Plato and Aristotle that if incluence opinions of average people run the political show the results are likely to be bad.
Average people tend to have shallow knowledge, put their immediate interests first, and may make impulsive decisions that lead to disaster. Gilens recognizes that the often-cited measurements of legislators based on their voting record may be too crude a measure.
Follow the Author
He points out that many decisions that lead to roll-call votes are made behind closed doors and are influenced by factors very different from what people think.
Next, while the Democratic party has come to be identified more with immigrants and poor people, and the Republican party identified with business and the rich, afflurnce shows that in power the Democratic party has had narrower representation of public opinion than the Republican Party. This was especially true of the Lyndon Johnson Administration.
Because of Democratic Party dominance after the Kennedy assassination the Johnson policies were minimally responsive to public ijfluence from any source.
In his final analysis, Gilens’s conclusions confirm earlier studies by Page and Shapiro that while average citizen opinion is shallow and unstable, aggregate citizen opinion is a better guide to public policy than the views of either party’s leaders. This is because in their own areas of activity and knowledge citizens do recognize reality and facts, and when the many areas are put together, the extremes cancel out and fairly sensible policy emerges.
Further, citizens are responsive to changing conditions. A big omission in the book, in my opinion, is mention of the brilliant French student of American Democracy, Alexis De Tocqueville, who came to a similar conclusions in a famous book of”Democracy in America”. De Tocqueville was astonished by the lack of vision in American politicians – attributing this to the fact that voters were drawn to men who served their short-range interests and told them what they wanted to hear.
But he also noted that random groups of citizens would offer better insights into political affairs than political leaders. What this means is that America really hasn’t changed political character in years. Like most political science books it is big on method and numbers but short on actual examples. The author states that policy is skewed towards the affluent. The author then presents his data and his equations are supposed to prove it all.
Well how do you communicate this to a group of community college students or univeristy undergrads? They want examples – how exactly in detail did a policy start with an affluent skew or move towards the affluent.
Political scientists need to follow politics once in awhile. Kindle Edition Verified Purchase. Martin Gilens’s book Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America is a very important book that is not very fun to read. It is sort of an extended version of a paper that Gilens coauthored with Benjamin Page. Elites, Interest Groups, and Privilege,” which created quite a controversy with its findings. This book of Gilens’ is essentially an elaboration of those research findings as well as others he and other people have conducted.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the book is not very fun to read because it’s not really written for popular consumption–even though it’s marketed that way.
Gilens writes as if his audience is an academic audience, and he frequently refers to studies and debates that take place that I imagine the ordinary intelligent reader is going to have no idea about. The book could have been better written and not been so esoteric in the way it addresses the reader. Even though it’s no fun, I’m glad the book was written and think it will be a good resource. Prof Gilens does an excellent job of correlating government policy decision against economic strata providing an in depth look and the nexus of policy decision versus citizen preference based on affluence.
Not only does he do an excellent job of explaining in understandable terms he also provides the data he culled through and provides insight on the statistical methodologies used. This book should provide a useful mechanism to begin a national discussion on policy and representation.
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Economic Inequality and Political Power in America.