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There have always been people throughout history saying that the government doesn’t listen to the people. It has been the source of jokes, writing, political activism throughout history. But for a long time, there was no substantial proof of this suspicion other than the seemingly unfair way in which laws were passed. Recently, a study conducted by Princeton University has revealed the sickening truth behind modern American Politics: The Government doesn’t care what you think.
The study analysed 20 years’ worth of public opinion and law making data to try and answer the simple question of: ‘Does the Government represent the people?’ In doing so they found out some startling truths about politics, mainly, that the government does not represent the people. In a perfect democracy, the more a bill is supported by the public, the higher the likelihood of it becoming law should be. So an issue with 0% support should have a 0% chance of becoming law, and one with 100% support should have 100% chance of becoming law. While obviously it cannot always be exactly this case, we would expect something around that sort of trend in a democracy. However, the Princeton study showed that on any given law, no matter how much support from the public it had, the chance of it becoming law was around 30%. So whether a bill had 90% support or 10%, the chance of congress passing it was the same. This in turn means that public opinion has little to no impact on the decisions by policy makers, or in the words of the Princeton study: ‘The preferences of the average American appear to have a miniscule, near zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy’. This can be shown on the graph below, which demonstrates the almost straight 30% line despite the preference of voters. (Gilens & Page, 2014) And so the history of jokes and writings about how congress does not care what you think, they are right.
That is, congress doesn’t care what you think, unless you are part of the rich elite. This 30% chance of becoming law despite public opinion only applies to the bottom 90% of Americans in terms of income. The highest paid in America have a very different story in terms of their support for laws. The next graph shows what happens when you apply this analysis to the wealthiest in the American Society. As can be clearly seen, if more of the wealthy favour a policy change, it has a higher chance of becoming law, and on the reverse, if the wealthy do not want a bill to pass, it has next to no chance of passing.
Logically the next question to ask is why is this the case? The answer, in simple terms, is that corruption is legal in America. The Lobbying system has firm roots in the American political system, and it allows wealthy companies and businessmen to alter the law to fit their own needs. The principle is simple. A special interest (A bank, company, or extremely wealthy businessman) hires Lobbyists. These lobbyists will in turn make donations to specific elected representatives in turn for supporting the bill the special interest wants passed. The elected representatives will accept the donations in order to get re-elected, and so the bill will be passed, and the cycle goes onwards. The bottom 90% for the most part cannot bribe the officials in the same way the wealthy do, and so their voice does not get heard. This process happens every single day, and both parties are guilty of it. But the true victims of the system are the voiceless 90%.
It is the reason that the disastrous war on drugs, which benefits many wealthy people while harming the lowest in our society, continues (Martin, 2015). It is the reason America now has one of the least effective and most expensive healthcare systems in the world (Bernstein, 2014). It is the reason that American internet speeds lag behind the rest of the world, yet Americans pay more for it (O’Toole, 2014). It is the reason why 1 in five American children are born into poverty (Child Hunger Fact Sheet, n.d.), and it is the reason why the Congress does not care about the majority of the American Voters opinions. Because the secret to winning an election is not your ideas, but rather the amount of money you have. 91% of the time, the candidate with the most amount of money will win an election (Communications, 2008), and taking bribes from special interest groups is the easiest way for an elected representative to gain money for their campaign.
But the most important thing to stress here, is that what these politicians and businesses are doing is completely legal. There is no system in check to stop this political engineering by the wealthy elite, and so it continues. And while this continues to happen it will be damn near impossible to pass a law through congress stopping lobbying. So what is there to be done? Well in 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida, managed to bypass the politicians, and by harnessing the power of the people managed to pass the first anti-corruption law in the US. Tea party leaders, Democrats and progressives banded under the common cause of fighting corruption, and started the organisation Citizens for Ethics Reform. They put forward the American Anti-corruption Act, a bill which aims to stop political bribery, make transparency laws stronger and to make sure every voter’s voice is heard. The bill bypassed congress by going to a ballot, and 66% of people in Tallahassee voted for it, signing it into despite the wishes of corporate lobbyists. This was a huge win for the anti-corruption movement, but it is only the beginning.
The victory in Florida only affected one city, but it signalled that it is possible for citizens to come together and to fight the corruption that is endemic in the American government. And across the US there is massive support for nationwide implementation of a bill similar to the American Anti-Corruption Act. In fact, 90% of American’s want an end to government corruption, but many feel like it could never come about, and many also do not know the scale of it.
So what can you do to end corruption in your government? Well you make your friends and family aware of the corruption in government if they are not already, or you could join with the many groups across the country who wish for an end to government corruption. While it may be endemic in congress, Tallahassee showed that when the public unites behind an issue they are stronger than any lobbyist, and that is the message that should be shown to America. Because until bribery and corruption are a thing of the past, America cannot be the Democracy its citizens want.
Bernstein, L. (2014, June 16). Once again, U.S. has most expensive, least effective health care system in survey. Retrieved from Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/06/16/once-again-u-s-has-most-expensive-least-effective-health-care-system-in-survey/
Child Hunger Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from Feeding America: http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/child-hunger/child-hunger-fact-sheet.html
Communications. (2008, November 5). Money Wins Presidency and 9 of 10 Congressional Races in Priciest U.S. Election Ever. Retrieved from Open Secrets: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2008/11/money-wins-white-house-and/
Gilens, M., & Page, B. I. (2014). Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average. Princeton.
Martin, C. (2015, February). Casualties of War: How the War on Drugs is harming the world’s poorest. Retrieved from Health Poverty Action: https://www.unodc.org/documents/ungass2016//Contributions/Civil/Health_Poverty_Action/War_on_Drugs_report_web.pdf
O’Toole, J. (2014, October 31). Americans pay more for slower Internet. Retrieved from CNN: http://money.cnn.com/2014/10/31/technology/internet-speeds/