In a Democracy Power Distribution
Majoritarian politics • leaders are forced to follow the preferences of citizens very closely. • The people have such intense feelings about a political issue that leaders feel obligated to follow the popular will. • On the vast majority of issues, however, political elites determine the outcome.
Elites • An elite is an identifiable group that possesses a disproportionate share of some valued resource – in this case, political power. • We will concentrate on these elites throughout the course.
Four major theories of who governs • Marxists • Power elites • Bureaucrats • populists
Marxists • The Marxist theory holds that government is merely a reflection of underlying economic forces. • Ownership of the means of production: capitalists (bourgeoisie) verses the workers (proletariat).
Whichever class dominates the economy controls the government; • therefore, the interests of large corporations are particularly powerful in American government.
Power elite • A second, related view, the power elite, holds that elites outside government, in addition to corporate leaders, have power. • This view is expresses by C. Wrights Mills in his book The Power Elite. • He held that this group, a loose coalition, of non-government elite, composed of three groups – corporate leaders, top military officers, and key political leaders, make most political decisions.
Also included in this group would be the leaders of media conglomerates; major labor leaders and leaders of special interest groups.
Bureaucrats • Appointed officials who operate government agencies and large corporations have come to dominate. • Max Weber, the foremost exponent of this view, felt the power of bureaucrats would become “overtowering.” • These bureaucrats bring the expertise and comprise the specialized managers.
Pluralist • Holds that political resources are so widely scattered that no single groups (national, state, local governments and anyone involved) can dominate most, or even much, of the political process. • Power may be exercise through such diverse groups that they represent almost all citizens affected by a policy. (businessmen, politicians, union leaders, journalists, bureaucrats, professors, environmentalists, lawyers). • In this view, policy comes from compromise.
No single theory of political power is capable of adequately explaining the decision-making process. • Policy shifts reflect responses to changing beliefs about government’s role as well as the evolution of political institutions and elites over time.
Factors that identify the political elite change over time. • Land ownership, once so critical to the exercise of influence, is largely irrelevant today. • Thus no stable pattern of decision-making will survive as valid for long.