BOSTON (TheStreet) -- The United States is supposed to be a democracy, in which all citizens can participate equally. But the growing income inequality of the past decade brought criticism that it's big business and the rich that really rules U.S. policy, not the average citizen.
This criticism gained momentum with the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission, which rolled back campaign finance laws to let a person give up to $3.5 million in campaign donations, whether that be directly to candidates, PACs or political parties.
Supporters say it doesn't threaten the inclusion of ordinary citizens in the shaping of policy. But a forthcoming study in Perspectives on Politics suggests government policy already disproportionately favors the interests of big business and the rich over those of the middle or lower classes that government functions more as an oligarchy than a democracy.
The study, by Martin Gilens, a professor of politics at Princeton University, and Benjamin I. Page, a professor at Northwestern University, analyzed 1,779 policy issues over three decades to estimate how much influence the rich, organized interest groups and average citizens each have on policy outcomes. Gilens and Page found that people in the 90th income percentile had the most political influence, followed closely by organized interest groups.
The preferences of average citizens were found to have very little to no effect on policy-making.
They're reflected in government policy -- but only when they align with those of the rich.
"Affluent and ordinary citizens frequently want the same thing. But when they disagree -- and they do disagree on many important matters -- the affluent generally get their way," Gilens said in a press release. "If democracy means that all citizens should have a say in shaping government policy, our findings cast doubt upon just how democratic U.S. policy making actually is."