3There can be little doubt that the wealthiest Americans exert more politicalinfluence than their less-affluent fellow citizens do. Historians, journalists, and common-sense observers have always known or suspected this. Recent quantitative evidence tendsto confirm it. Bartels (2008) and Gilens (2005, 2012), for example, have shown thatsenators’ roll call votes and actual federal government policy correspond much moreclosely with the policy preferences of “affluent” Americans (those in the top third or topfifth of the income distribution) than with the preferences of low- or middle-incomecitizens. Ferguson (1995), Domhoff (2010), Block (2007), and others have long arguedthat “major investors” or business elites dominate the making of public policy and theagendas of both the Republican and the Democratic parties. Winters (2011) maintainsthat the top 1/10 of 1% of U.S. wealth-holders constitute an “oligarchy” with decisivepower over certain key policy areas related to what he calls “income defense.”But the implications of unequal political influence depend heavily upon exactlywhat wealthy Americans actually want government to do. If – as Soroka and Wliezien(2010) suggest – the policy preferences of the affluent are much the same as everyoneelse’s, then it is hard to see how their unequal influence would make much practicaldifference.
On the other hand, if the wealthy pursue their own narrow economic self interests against the interests of other citizens, their disproportionate influence wouldseem to be a serious problem for the working of democracy in the United States. If thewealthy use their extra clout to seek what they see as the common good but do so in waysopposed to the expressed policy preferences of the citizenry as a whole, we have a moreambiguous normative situation. Either way, if the wealthy pursue policies opposed by