You may sense that America’s political system, and its government, is broken. That’s true. But how do you convince your family over thanksgiving? And how do you figure out how we could fix that problem? Well, you need some evidence: some statistics, some facts, and some analysis. Our political power meter has got you covered:
What you can see in the meter is the antithesis of representative government; and money is playing a key, corrupting role. Let’s break it down:
- Candidates who raise more money win election most of the time (in fact, in 91% of Congressional races). Your skeptical uncle might say, “that’s correlation, not causation” — meaning that popular candidate can raise money and get votes, but money isn’t causing them to win. That’s possible, but it should still make us look more closely into where political money comes from, and what politicians do once they get into office — which we’re about to.
- Political donations come from a tiny number of elite mega donors. Over two-thirds of candidates’ cash comes from just 0.2% of the population, who are giving thousands of dollars at a time. These are not ordinary Americans, and we should be concerned that politicians may owe favors to just one slice of the electorate. We don’t know exactly how many other Americans give money, but it’s still very few: probably around 5% give all the remaining money, in “small” donations of less than $200. Most Americans don’t donate to politicians at all — and politicians know this.
- Congress responds to the desires of the wealthy elite, not ordinary Americans. Two political scientists, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, measured how Congress responds to public opinion. What they found was quite startling. Middle-class voters, with incomes at the 50th percentile, had essentially no influence on legislation (they measured a 5% effect, but it was not statistically significant). Meanwhile, individuals at the 90th percentile of incomes could shift Congress significantly, blocking policies they opposed, and making others much more likely. (This was a 78% independent effect.)
Taking these things together, a troubling picture emerges: politicians are responsive only the wealthy, and it’s the wealthy who allow politicians to win election, through their donations. Whether this is quid pro quo bribery doesn’t matter: the entire political system has been corrupted by money, resulting in a government that is increasingly less representative of the people.