Princeton Study Discovers What Our Politicians Really Think About Us — And It's Shocking

Princeton Study Discovers What Our Politicians Really Think About Us — And It's Shocking
Source: AP
Source: AP

Is America a plutocracy? According to a 2014 study from Princeton University professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University's Benjamin Page that examined close to 2,000 public opinion surveys, the answer may be yes. Gilens and Page found that while the opinions of everyday Americans rarely seemed to significantly influence decisions by Congress, those of the rich and interest groups did.

Now, nonpartisan group Represent.us has explained Gilens and Page's research in a series of animated charts accompanied by narration. In an ideal world, the video's creators argue, public support for an idea would more or less correlate with the probability of it becoming law. But the study found that public opinion pretty much hovers at a consistently low level of influence, regardless of how many citizens support or hate a proposal.

Source: Represent.us via YouTube

The key quote from Gilens and Page's research is animated below:

Source: Mic/Represent.us via YouTube

But while average Americans seem increasingly unable to influence how they are actually governed, economic elites — the wealthy and influential — have a much greater chance of influencing legislators, as seen in the chart below. 

"Almost every major issue we face as a nation can be traced back to this graph," the narrator says.

Source: Represent.us via YouTube

It's not just the rich as a class, either. As Represent.us points out, big businesses and interest groups, which spend large amounts of money on lobbying, get lavish rewards from our increasingly corrupt government. For a few billion dollars in lobbying costs, these large and wealthy organizations get trillions of dollars in subsidies and special treatment thrown back at them.

Source: Represent.us
Source: Represent.us

As Mic wrote previously on Gilens and Page's study, this kind of corrupt influence "might explain why mandatory background checks on gun sales supported by 83% to 91% of Americans aren't in place, or why Congress has taken no action on greenhouse gas emissions even when such legislation is supported by the vast majority of citizens." When Congress judges policies not on their merits as measured by the preferences of average citizens but by how much money each side is throwing at the issue, the result is something that looks a lot like an oligarchy, with all the problems that come with plutocratic governance.

Watch the video below:

Source: YouTube

Correction: May 13, 2015
An earlier version of this article described Represent.us as progressive. The group is nonpartisan.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

MORE FROM

What does Sean Spicer’s resignation mean for the rest of Trump’s inner circle?

Many are already wondering if Spicer's departure could portend more shakeups to come.

How the messy New York City subways are hurting vulnerable New Yorkers the most

The New York subway system is a mess — and here's who's suffering the most.

Is Sean Spicer the shortest-serving White House press secretary in history?

Spicer served just six months as press secretary — there are some cabinet members in White House history who have served mere days.

5 stories from this week that aren't about OJ Simpson or Sean Spicer

The White House will be forced to release logs from Mar-a-Lago, and Democrats finally have an agenda.

According to Anthony Scaramucci’s Twitter, he believes in climate change and voted for Barack Obama

He also supports same-sex marriage. And abortion rights.

Trump is reportedly looking into pardoning himself. Here’s why that could backfire.

Can the president really pardon himself?

What does Sean Spicer’s resignation mean for the rest of Trump’s inner circle?

Many are already wondering if Spicer's departure could portend more shakeups to come.

How the messy New York City subways are hurting vulnerable New Yorkers the most

The New York subway system is a mess — and here's who's suffering the most.

Is Sean Spicer the shortest-serving White House press secretary in history?

Spicer served just six months as press secretary — there are some cabinet members in White House history who have served mere days.

5 stories from this week that aren't about OJ Simpson or Sean Spicer

The White House will be forced to release logs from Mar-a-Lago, and Democrats finally have an agenda.

According to Anthony Scaramucci’s Twitter, he believes in climate change and voted for Barack Obama

He also supports same-sex marriage. And abortion rights.

Trump is reportedly looking into pardoning himself. Here’s why that could backfire.

Can the president really pardon himself?