A troubling study has discovered what we've all thought for some time: congress, literally, does not care what you think. Professors at Princeton and Northwestern examined more than 20 years worth of data, looking to answer a basic question: Does the government represent the people?
Their study examined data from approximately 2000 public opinion surveys and compared it to policies that ended up actually becoming law. What they found was deeply disturbing: The opinions of 90% of Americans had basically no impact at all.
The results highlight deep problems in our electoral system which concentrates effective power in the hands of a precious few. Individual voters, even though they receive a vote, hold no sway in the eventual decisions made by politicians. Instead, politicians are controlled by key figures who control large blocks of votes, such as business owners or union representatives.
“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy” the authors wrote in the paper.
The only thing that has an influence? Money. At the same time the opinions of the bottom 90% of income earners have zero influence in policy, the top 10% of earners, business interests, and people who can afford lobbyists are all able to exert influence despite representing an incredibly small part of the electorate.
The findings paint a bleak picture of a nation caught in the grip of corruption, where moneyed interests get what they want and the rest of us get what we get.
The details are shocking
The researchers found that in the past 5 years, the 200 most politically active companies spent $5.8 billion influencing our government via lobbying and campaign donations.
In return, those same companies got $4.4 trillion in taxpayer support. That works out to a 750x or 75,000% return on their investment. It's no wonder the rich keep getting richer with those type of astronomical returns.
The whole system now amounts to a vicious cycle of legalized corruption.
The study highlights the urgent need for campaign finance reform as when the cost of winning elections goes higher, politicians become ever more dependent on the small porttion of the population who can bankroll their campaigns.
The numbers are shocking:
Cost to win a Senate seat in 2014: $14,351 PER DAY
Percentage of Americans who donate more than $10,000 in ANY ONE ELECTION: 0.05%
The numbers show clearly that an incredibly small group of people pay for politicians to be in office and are then, in turn, the recipients of favors.
Don't give favors, don't get money to be elected. Simple.
This is why the average elected official spends around 30-70% of their time in office fundraising for the next election.
Clearly, something needs to change, as our political system has slowly dissolved into a feudal system where the very wealthy puppeteer our government officials and in turn the country.