Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens

Paper by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page :”Who governs? Who really rules? To what extent is the broad body of U.S. citizens sovereign, semi-sovereign, or largely powerless? These questions have animated much important work in the study of American politics.
While this body of research is rich and variegated, it can loosely be divided into four families of theories: Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic Elite Domination, and two types of interest group pluralism –Majoritarian Pluralism, in which the interests of all citizens are more or less equally represented, and Biased Pluralism, in which corporations, business associations, and professional groups predominate) Each of these perspectives makes different predictions about the independent influence upon U.S. policy making of four sets of actors: the Average Citizen or “median voter,” Economic Elites, and Mass-based or Business-oriented Interest Groups or industries.
Each of these theoretical traditions has given rise to a large body of literature. Each is supported by a great deal of empirical evidence – some of it quantitative, some historical, some observational – concerning the importance of various sets of actors (or, all too often, a single set of actors) in U.S. policy making. This literature has made important contributions to our understanding of how American politics works and has helped illuminate how democratic or undemocratic (in various senses) our policy making process actually is. Until very recently, however, it has been impossible to test the diffe ring predictions of these theories against each other within a single statistical model that permits one to analyze
the independent effects of each set of actors upon policy outcomes.
Here – in a tentative and preliminary way – we offer such test, bringing a unique data set to bear on the problem. Our measures are far from
perfect, but we hope that this first step will help inspire further research into what we see as some of the most fundamental questions about American politics…”