A letter to Prof. Martin Gilens

Dear Prof. Gilens,

My name is Yoram Gat.

I recently became aware of your new paper “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens ” expanding on your previous work (“Inequality and democratic responsiveness”, 2005).

I see the findings of this work, as I presume you do, as confirming the widespread public sentiment, consistently measured in many opinion polls and expressed for example in the 2011 “Occupy” protests, that the American system does not represent the majority of Americans (“the 99%”). I also presume that the American system is not unique in this respect: 2011 has seen protest around the world reflecting similar sentiments in other societies governed by similar systems.
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Gilens and Page: Average citizens have no political influence

Keith McDonnell and Terry Bouricius wrote to point out the following.

Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page have a new paper titled “Testing theories of American politics: elites, interest Groups, and average citizens”. The paper continues the work of Gilens analyzing the correlation between public opinion and policy (see his 2005 paper “Inequality and democratic responsiveness” and a book on the same theme, Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America).

The previous work found that any correlation between public sentiments and policy is completely mediated by elite opinion (where “elite” is defined as top decile of income). The new paper adds to the analysis the position of interest groups and again finds that elites dominate policy making. The abstract is as follows:


Each of four theoretical traditions in the study of American politics – which can be characterized as theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic Elite Domination, and two types of interest group pluralism, Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased Pluralism – offers different predictions about which sets of actors have how much influence over public policy: average citizens; economic elites; and organized interest groups, mass-based or business-oriented.

A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions 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.

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

Serve with pride


Sortition Coming to Washington State?

I was reading Dan Savage’s blog this morning, and stumbled upon the following posting:

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Posted by Dan Savage on Wed, Apr 9, 2014 at 4:57 PM

We couldn’t do worse than Rodney Tom, right?

That led me to find the ballot initiative itself. It appears to be real, and was only recently filed with the State of Washington. Continue reading

Winning Hearts and Minds for Sortition

Another blog posting from Italy has appeared regarding sortition. This time, the focus is on strategizing how best to spread the word. It advocates focusing upon the limitations of voting. See–


Top-down or bottom-up? Sinister interests – vs – the median voter strategy

For some time I’ve been puzzled as to why empirical political scientists and normative political theorists have taken up antithetical positions on what has to be the central issue of democratic politics – who rules?. In the former community there is widespread agreement that the demos has kratos – elected politicians are obliged to formulate policies that are designed to attract the support of the ‘median’ voter. Political theorists, however (along with their colleagues in media studies), in so far as they are interested in the topic at all, view this as little more than a confidence trick, designed to conceal the identity of the shadowy ‘sinister interests’ who are really pulling the strings of power. Given that political scientists and political theorists are both housed in the same faculties, and drink their cappuccinos in the same common rooms, why should they come to such diametrically opposed conclusions?
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The Dissoi logoi on sortition

Dissoi logoi, a Greek book usually dated to the end of the 5th century BC, has the following argument about sortition, whose first part is quite similar in both content and form to the argument attributed to Socrates by Xenophon in Memorabilia. The second part is reminiscent of the argument made by Isocrates in Areopagiticus.

VII. [No Title]
(1) Some of the popular orators say that offices should be assigned by lot, but their opinion is not the best. (2) Suppose someone should question the man who says this as follows: Why don’t you assign your household slaves their tasks by lot, so that if the teamster drew the office of cook, he would do the cooking and the cook would drive the team, and so with the rest ? (3) And why don’t we get together the smiths and cobblers, and the carpenters and goldsmiths, and have them draw lots, and force each one to engage in whatever trade he happens to draw and not the one he understands ? (4) The same thing could also be done in musical contests: have the contestants draw lots and have each one compete in the contest he draws; thus the flute-player will play the lyre if that falls to his lot, and the lyre-player the flute. And in battle it may turn out that archers and hoplites will ride horseback and the cavalry-man will use the bow, with the result that everyone will do what he does not understand and is incapable of doing. (5) And they say that this procedure is also not only good but exceptionally democratic, whereas I think that democratic is the last thing it is. Because there are in cities men hostile to the demos, and if the lot falls to them, they will destroy the demos. (6) But the demos itself ought to keep its eyes open and elect all those who are well-disposed towards it, and ought to choose suitable people to be in command of the army and others to be the law-officers, and so on.


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