Distribution of Political Power
Table of Contents
Political power in the US is vested largely in the ability to command votes. This power is intended to provide the citizens of the US with the means to control leadership and to determine the course of leadership. However, democracy does not always translate into equity for the people nor does it mean that the majority always prevails. By virtue of the way that the system is designed, there are inherent inequities that occur with groups that are under-represented or marginalized in terms of race, class, and gender.
The Problem of Racial Inequality
While great strides have been made to provide equality for people of different races, there are still large areas of inequality within the political system. Most notably, African Americans still endure political oppression due to the fact that political power is often used to enact policies that reduce African American political power. This is a complex problem that has historical and structural roots. The first part of the problem is that African Americans are a minority and they have less voting power. This lack of votes automatically reduces the ability of African Americans to control leadership and to change leadership strategies. Moreover, African Americans face various barriers and obstacles to voting, such as voter suppression, gerrymandering, felony disenfranchisement, and lack of representation.
The second part of this problem is that special interest groups often galvanize voters and political leaders towards policies and lawmaking that are harmful to African Americans. For example, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has successfully promoted leadership and policy that allows for less strict control of guns. Ultimately, because African Americans are one of the groups most affected by gun violence and crime, this type of legislation harms them. According to the CDC, in 2022, the firearm homicide rate for Black Americans was 11,565 per 100,000 people and for White Americans 3,828 per 100,000. This fact also shows how inequitable the political system can be, because not only does it harm the group that is least powerful, but it also does not represent the majority. More than 88% of Americans believe that stricter controls on guns such as background checks should be enforced. Despite the majority of Americans calling for tougher laws that could reduce deaths in Black communities, the government consistently fails to pass policy that is in favor of more control.
Class & Money
In the US, class is often associated with money. It is possible to move from one class to another, but often class mobility is limited by policymaking that reduces the ability of individuals to advance. According to a 2020 report by the World Economic Forum, the US ranks 27th out of 82 countries in terms of social mobility, which measures the extent to which a person’s socioeconomic status is influenced by their parents’ status. One of the factors that affects social mobility is the distribution of income and wealth, which has become more unequal in the US over the past decades.
Some groups face more barriers and challenges to achieve upward mobility than others, especially racial minorities and women, due to their inability to control and gain wealth. In this instance, special interest groups have assisted with this problem, such as the NAACP, the American Association of University Women (AAUW), and many other groups that lobby political leaders in an effort to make a change. Groups such as the NAACP have been at the forefront of combating discrimination in pay and many laws have been enacted that enforce equity in the workplace. However, despite advancements in policy and laws, minorities and women are still unable to achieve fairness in pay and this reduces their ability to move upwards in class. For example, in 2019, the median annual earnings of Black and Hispanic workers were 75% and 74%, respectively, of those of White workers, and the median annual earnings of women were 82% of those of men.
The Role of Interest Groups
Interest groups play an important role in American democracy. They provide a way for Americans to connect with their government and make their voices heard on the issues that matter to them. In addition, interest groups help to educate the public about the issues and to mobilize people to take action. However, interest groups also have some drawbacks and limitations, especially when they compete or conflict with each other or with the public interest.
One of the most salient issues in interest groups is that they often divide rather than unite causes. Groups such as the NAACP represent the interests of minorities, in particular African Americans, and as a result, this group is limited in size but also due to the fact that it may not vote consistent with other groups such as AAUW due to specific issues being focused on. Another issue is the fact that there are so many interest groups and each group represents a different perspective (often on the same issues) that these groups often divide political power rather than unite for under-represented groups. This is harmful because it further reduces the life chances of the populations that the interest groups are intended to serve. For example, some environmental groups may oppose the expansion of renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar, because they may harm wildlife or landscapes, while other groups may support them because they may reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
Another issue in interest groups is that they may have disproportionate influence on policymaking, depending on their resources, access, and organization. Some interest groups, especially those that represent economic and corporate interests, may have more funds, connections, and expertise to lobby and persuade public officials than others, such as those that represent social causes or marginalized groups. This may create an imbalance of power and representation in the political system, and may undermine the democratic principle of equal voice and participation. For example, some studies have found that the preferences of economic elites and interest groups have more impact on public policy than those of average citizens.
The Challenges of Political Change
One of the major issues in the US is the problem of endless debating and lack of change to important political issues. This problem can be seen in a myriad of social issues which have taken decades to reform. For example, as early as 1948, it was recognized that homosexuality was not a mental illness. Despite research showing this, homosexuals would have to wait until 1973 for the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality as a mental illness from their literature. Despite this removal, homosexuals were still barred from military service and could be fired with discrimination until the 1990s. These types of situations highlight the inability of underrepresented groups to gain political authority. The problem is a numbers situation to some degree, but this does not tell the whole story. If it were true that numbers of votes were all that were needed, there would be faster and more efficient changes in politics. However, it is the division of parties and interest groups that often reinforce inequity in politics. For example, the Republican party should be losing many key policy issues due to the size large numbers of voters who disagree with their stance on key issues, like abortion and gun control. This does not occur mainly because the Democratic party is not a party in the truest sense of the word. The Democratic party is really a collection of smaller interest groups that represent many different issues or are opposed to Republican policy stances. For instance, Republicans are opposed to abortion and anyone who holds this interest above any other will likely vote Republican. As a result, there is a large swing vote attached to the Democratic party because voters may change their vote due to the treatment of a policy that impacts them.
Another issue in the current political environment is the displeasure many Americans hold for special interest groups. In 2016, Donald Trump gained control of the Republican party and many traditionally democratic voters because many voters see special interest groups negatively and he appeared to represent these alienated voters with his rhetoric targeting minorities. Trump’s populist appeal was based on his promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington insiders and lobbyists, and to represent the forgotten Americans who felt left behind by the political establishment. However, Trump’s presidency also showed the limits and dangers of his anti-interest group stance, as he often ignored or attacked the views and needs of many groups, such as scientists, journalists, civil rights activists, and public health experts, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump’s presidency also revealed the hypocrisy and inconsistency of his claim to be independent from special interests, as he appointed many wealthy donors and corporate executives to his cabinet and administration, and pursued policies that favored his own business interests and those of his allies.