Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans
It is important to know what wealthy Americans seek from politics and how (if at all) their policy preferences differ from those of other citizens.There can be little doubt that the wealthy exert more political influence than the less affluent do. If they tend to get their way in some areas of public policy, and if they have policy preferences that differ significantly from those of most Americans, the results could be troubling for democratic policy making. Recent evidence indicates that “affluent” Americans in the top fifth of theincomedistributionaresociallymoreliberalbuteconomicallymoreconservativethanothers.Butuntilnowtherehasbeenlittle systematicevidenceaboutthetrulywealthy,suchasthetop1percent.Wereporttheresultsofapilotstudyofthepoliticalviewsand activities of the top 1 percent or so of US wealth-holders. We find that they are extremely active politically and that they are much moreconservativethantheAmericanpublicasawholewithrespecttoimportantpoliciesconcerningtaxation,economicregulation, and especially social welfare programs. Variation within this wealthy group suggests that the top one-tenth of 1 percent of wealthholders (people with $40 million or more in net worth) may tend to hold still more conservative views that are even more distinct from those of the general public. We suggest that these distinctive policy preferences may help account for why certain public policiesintheUnitedStatesappeartodeviatefromwhatthemajorityofUScitizenswantsthegovernmenttodo.Ifthisisso,itraises serious issues for democratic theory.