Intuitively, I think most people suspect that rich people have more influence over our government than anyone else. But, maybe they don’t really understand quite how rich you have to be to have special influence or how, most of the time, that influence manifests itself.

At Ten Miles Square, Sean McElwee takes a deep look at studies on these issues and concludes that the reality is different from what most people think. His starting point is the “bombshell paper” that political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page published last year. McElwee looks at how that paper has been mischaracterized (according to the authors) and also at the growing body of critiques of their research.

One interesting finding is that the interests of the rich and the middle class overlap most of the time. Another is that the super-rich get their way a lot more often than the ordinary rich.

But maybe the most counterintuitive finding is that the distortion of our political process is less a matter of money in elections than it is money for corporate lobbyists.

In other words, politicians chasing after donations aren’t the biggest problem here.

In addition, we may need to put greater emphasis on the influence of highly mobilized constituencies, like business groups, and how they distort the policy process. These groups tend to be the most out of line with the general public, and also to have the most clout when it comes to changing policy.

You should read the whole thing because the kinds of reforms that have promise to make the government more responsive to the wishes of the people may be different and more varied than the ones you’re hearing about on the campaign trail.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at