A study from Princeton and Northwestern universities found that the U.S. is not a democracy, but an oligarchy, in which the interests of the wealthiest people and organizations are served rather than the interests of voters.
Researchers analyzed extensive policy data collected from 1981 to 2002.
Reviewing nearly 1,800 policies in that period, they compared them to the expressed preferences of average Americans, that of the richest 90 percent of Americans and that of large special interest groups.
"The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,” the study said.
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The study found policies rarely align with the preference of the American majority.
"When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose,” it said. “Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it."
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., wrote in a March 31 op-ed for Huffington Post that the Supreme Court decision to throw out rules limiting what wealthy individuals and corporations can contribute to elections is representative of a U.S. oligarchy.
“Since that ruling, campaign spending by Adelson, the Koch brothers and a handful of other billionaire families has fundamentally undermined American democracy,” Sanders wrote. “If present trends continue, elections will not be decided by one-person, one-vote, but by a small number of very wealthy families who spend huge amounts of money supporting right-wing candidates who protect their interests.”
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“This process -- a handful of the wealthiest people in our country controlling the political process -- is called ‘oligarchy,’” he said, adding, “we must move toward public funding of elections.”