Over the last few years, political scientists have warned about a worrying trend in American democracy: Voter preferences don’t have much sway over presidents’ policy choices. New research suggests their worries are well founded.
In a new book, political scientists James Druckman and Lawrence Jacobs examine data on internal polling from U.S. presidential archives and other existing research to determine how presidents use their knowledge of public opinion to craft policies. What they found is disturbing: Presidents tend to focus only on the opinions of the wealthy and well-connected insiders, ignoring the views and preferences of most of the electorate. This turns the idea that elected officials in the United States are responsive to public opinion on its head.
Druckman and Jacobs focused on how President Ronald Reagan created the modern conservative coalition using internal polling. He sought to unite political independents, high-income groups, social conservatives and conservatives. While all of these groups had influence over the Reagan administration, high-income earners had the most pull.