Still Telling It Like It Is?

March 30, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

If Donald Trump’s star begins to fade or even plummets from the firmament, his statements today about abortion may be the turning point. Trump said abortion should be banned and that “there should be some form of punishment” for women who get abortions. A few hours later he issued a statement saying that he would criminalize only the people who performed the abortion, not the women.

The political problem is not that he is offending women – he’s been offending them all through the successful months of his candidacy. It’s that he risks being seen as a politician. For most of Trump’s hard core constituency, his appeal has not been his stand on the issues, except perhaps immigration. What they like in Trump is his seeming indifference to what others think. Trump is the un-politician, he’s the guy who “tells it like it is.”

Exit pollsters at the South Carolina primary in February asked people about the qualities of the six candidates. On the question, “Which candidate shares my values?” Cruz was the winner. But on “Which candidate tells it like it is?” The difference between Trump and all the others was overwhelming. (source here.)


“Telling it like it is” is not the same thing as being factual. Accuracy does not seem to matter much to Trump voters. Instead, the phrase means speaking your mind without regard to political correctness or political impact. It’s the Trump supporters’ version of “speaking truth to power.” Even Trump’s denigrating what Republicans had been hailing as John McCain’s war heroism cost him no votes. Trump was saying what he thought even though it might violate conservative canons political correctness.

The South Carolina sentiments are reflected in a  Gallup poll in January that asked Republicans what they thought would be the best thing about a Trump presidency. Nearly a quarter of the responses fit into the tell-it-like-it-is category. Trump “says what he feels” and “does not back down.”

(Click on the image for a slightly larger view.)

Today Trump was different. He put forward a position whose purpose seemed to be its political appeal rather than the expression of what he feels. Then three hours later, he backed down.

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, okay, and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” Trump said just two months ago. He may have been right. But today by changing his position in order to win votes and then changing it back for the same reason he just might be shooting down his own campaign.*

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* I realize that this guess about Trump voters directly contradicts what I said about a particular Trump supporter, Alex Chalgren, in an recent post (here). It’s possible that the most of Trump’s backers will find similar ways to resolve the dissonance. But there’s a difference. First, what happened today concerns character, not policy. Second, unlike Alex Chalgren, most of Trump voters and potential voters have not made their support of him so public. 

Based – Off and On

March 26, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston


“This is based off of self-interest . . . .” wrote one student. Another wrote, “It’s an idea based off others from past years.” 

This construction sounded wrong to my ears. What happened to “based on”? Was this some local North New Jersey variant, like the New Yorkers’ waiting on line when everyone else in the US waits in line? But then I saw it in The Guardian last week:
Kang and her colleagues sent out 1,600 fabricated resumes, based off of real candidates, to employers in 16 different metropolitan areas in the US.
Lexis-Nexis turned up a few others just since the start of the year, and it wasn’t just New Jersey, or even the US.
  • “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl “ is based off of the book by Jesse Andrews, (Berkshire Eagle) “We should set a baseline, and that's what the salaries should be based off.” (Chicago Daily Herald)
  • . . .little should be read into the upcoming Capital One Cup game based off this result. (Manchester Evening News, UK)
  • . . . schools estimated the number of children in their zone based off a ballot sent out in September (Manawatu Standard, New Zealand)
“Busy prepositions, always on the go,” said “Schoolhouse Rock.”* But it seems to me that prepositions are remarkably stable – those New Yorkers are still waiting on line, even though “on line” has added a much different and widely used meaning.



How did we get “based off” and “based off of”? How did this diffusion happen? It’s not like some fashion in clothing. It’s not created in Language Central and sent out amid a big publicity campaign. Nor did any celebrities start using it. Nor is it like the words that people are fully aware of and consciously choose, the phrases that are groovy for a minute or two and then become old hat, or those that are totally awesome and become part of the language and that nobody has an issue with.

My Lexis-Nexis search for “based off” turned up about 300 hits for 2016. (Lexis-Nexis does not consider “of” to be worthy of counting, so adding it to a word or phrase – “based off of” – is useless.) In the same period for 2010, the count was 100. In 2000, zero.

The Google nGrams database of books tells a similar story of the rapid rise of “based off of.” Of course, it is, by several orders of magnitude, still dwarfed by “based on.” But this graph, with “based off of multiplied by 100,000, shows its recent and rapid rise.



The change is probably generational. Older speakers like me will cling to “based on”; but “based off” or “based off of” will be the choice of an increasing number of younger people. It won’t catch up to “based off” immediately. It’s not the faddish kind of change that will happen in a couple of days. Or do I mean “in a couple days”?


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* The song is here. It was written by jazz pianist/composer Bob Dorough, and he performs it with trumpeter Jack Sheldon. Other jazzers, notably Dave Frishberg and Blossom Dearie, contributed to “Schoolhouse Rock” as writers and performers. Busy jazz musicians.


Show, Don’t Tell

March 23, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Can the mood of a piece of writing be graphed?

For his final project in Andrew Gelman’s course on statistical communication and graphics, Lucas Estevem created a “Text Sentiment Visiualizer.” Gelman discusses it on his blog, putting the Visualizer through its paces with the opening of Moby Dick.

(Click on an image for a slightly larger view.)

Without reading too carefully, I thought that the picture – about equally positive and negative – seemed about right. Sure things ended badly, but Ishmael himself seemed like a fairly positive fellow. So I went to the Visualizer (here)  and pasted in the text of one of my blogposts. It came out mostly negative. I tried another. Ditto. And another. The results were not surprising when I thought about what I write here, but they were sobering nevertheless. Gotta be more positive.

But how did the Visualizer know? What was its formula for sussing out the sentiment in a sentence? Could the Visualizer itself be a glum creature, tilted towards the dark side, seeing negativity where others might see neutrality? I tried other novel openings. Kafka’s Metamorphosis was entirely in the red, and Holden Caulfield looked to be at about 90%. But Augie March, not exactly a brooding or nasty type, scored about 75% negative. Joyce’s Ulysses came in at about 50-50.

To get a somewhat better idea of the scoring, I looked more closely at page one of The Great Gatsby. The Visualizer scored the third paragraph heavily negative – 17 out of 21 lines. But many of those lines had words that I thought would be scored as positive.

Did the Visualizer think that extraordinary gift, gorgeous, and successful were not such a good thing?

Feeling slightly more positive about my own negative scores, I tried Dr. Seuss. He too skewed negative.


What about A Tale of Two Cities? Surely the best of times would balance out the worst of times, and that famous opening paragraph would finish in a draw. But a line-by-line analysis came out almost all negative.


Only best, hope, and Heaven made it to the blue side.

I’m not sure what the moral of the story is except that, as I said in a recent post, content analysis is a bitch.

Gelman is more on the positive side about the Visualizer. It’s “far from perfect,” but it’s a step in the right direction – i.e., towards visual presentation – and we can play around with it, as I’ve done here, to see how it works and how it might be improved. Or as Gelman concludes, “Visualization. It’s not just about showing off. It’s a tool for discovering and learning about anomalies.”

Race and Tweets

March 20, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston


Nigger* is a racially charged word. And if you sort cities or states according to how frequently words like nigger turn up from them on Twitter, you’ll find large differences. In some states these words appear forty times more often than in others. But do those frequencies tell us about the local climate of race relations? The answer seems to be: it depends on who is tweeting.

In the previous post, I wondered whether the frequency of tweets with words like bitch, cunt, etc. tell us about general levels of misogyny in a state or city. Abodo.com, the Website that mapped the geography of sexist tweets, also had charts and maps showing both racially charged tweets (with words like “nigger”) and more neutral, politically correct, tweets (“African Americans” or “Black people”). Here are the maps of the two different linguistic choices.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

West Virginia certainly looks like the poster state for racism – highest in “anti-Black” tweets, and among the lowest in “neutral or tolerant” tweets. West Virginia is 95% White, so it’s clear that we’re looking at how White people there talk about Blacks. That guy who sang about the Mountaineer State being almost heaven – I’m pretty sure he wasn’t a Black dude. Nevada too is heavily White (75% , Black 9%), but there, tweets with polite terms well outnumber those with slurs. Probably, Nevada is a less racist place than West Virginia.

But what about states with more Blacks? Maryland, about 30% Black, is in the upper range for neutral race-tweets, but it’s far from the bottom on “anti-Black” tweets. The same is true for Georgia and Louisiana, both about 30% Black. These states score high on both kinds – what we might call, with a hat-tip to Chris Rock, “nigger tweets” and “Black people tweets.” (If you are not familiar with Rock’s “Niggers and Black People,” watch it here.) If he had released this 8-minute stand-up routine as a series of tweets, and if Chris Rock were a state instead of a person, that state would be at the top in both categories – “anti-Black” and “neutral and tolerant. How can a state or city be both?

The answer of course is that the meaning of nigger depends on who is using it.  When White people are tweeting about Blacks, then the choice of words probably tells us about racism. But when most of the people tweeting are Black, it’s harder to know. Here, for example, are Abodo’s top ten cities for “anti-Black tweets.”


Blacks make up a large percent of the population in most of these cities.  The top four – Baltimore, Atlanta, and New Orleans – are over 50% Black. It’s highly unlikely that it’s the Whites there who are flooding Twitter with tweets teeming with “nigger, coon, dindu, jungle bunny, monkey, or spear chucker” – the words included in Abodo’s anti-Black tag.** If the tag had included niggas, the “anti-Black” count in these cities would have been even higher.

All this tells us is that Black people tweet about things concerning Black people. And since hip-hop has been around for more than thirty years, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Blacks use these words with no slur intended. When I searched Twitter yesterday for nigger, the tweets I saw on the first page were all from Black people, and some of those tweets, rather than using the word nigger were talking about the use of it.  (Needless to say, if you search for niggas, you can scroll through many, many screens trying to find a tweet with a White profile picture.)



For some reason, Abodo refused to draw this obvious conclusion. They do say in another section of the article that  “anti-Hispanic slurs have largely not been reclaimed by Hispanic and Latino people in the way that the N-word is commonly used in black communities.” So they know what’s going on. But in the section on Blacks, they say nothing, tacitly implying that these “anti-Black” tweets announce an anti-Black atmosphere. But that’s true only if the area is mostly White. When those tweets are coming from Blacks, it’s much more complicated.

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*Abodo backs away from using the actual word. They substitute the usual euphemism – “the N-word.” As I have said elsewhere in this blog, if you can’t say the word you’re talking about when you’re talking about it as a word, then the terrorists have won. In this view, I differ from another Jay (Smooth) whose views I respect. A third Jay (Z) has no problems with using the word. A lot.

** I confess, porch monkey and dindu were new to me, but then, I don’t get out much, at least not in the right circles. Abodo ignored most of the terms in the old SNL sketch with Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase.  (The available videos, last time I checked, are of low quality, but like Chris Rock’s routine, it is an important document that everyone interested in race and media should be familiar with. A link along with a partial transcript is in this earlier post.)

Content Analysis Is a Bitch

March 18, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Can Twitter tell us about the climate of intolerance? Do the words in all those tweets reveal something about levels of racism and sexism? Maybe. But the language of intolerance – “hate speech” – can be tricky to read.

Adobo is website for people seeking apartments – Zillow for renters – and it recently posted an article, “America’s Most P.C. and Prejudiced Places” (here), with maps and graphs of data from Twitter. Here, for example, are the cities with the highest rates of misogynistic tweets. 


Unfortunately, Abodo does not say which words are in its formula for “deragotory language against women.” But Abodo does recognize that bitch might be a problem because “it is commonly used as profanity but not always with sexist intent.”  Just to see what those uses might be, I searched for “bitch” on Twitter, but the results, if not overtly sexist, all referred to a female as a bitch.


Maybe it was New Orleans. I tried again adding “NOLA” as a search term and found one non-sexist bitch.


When Abodo ran their much larger database of tweets but excluded the word bitch from its misogyny algorithm, New Orleans dropped from first place to fourth, and Baton Rouge disappeared from the top ten. Several Northeast and Western cities now made the cut.


This tells us what we might have known if we’d been following Jack Grieve’s Twitter research (here) – that bitch is especially popular in the South.


The Twitter map of cunt is just the opposite. It appears far more frequently in tweets from the Northeast than from the South.


The bitch factor changes the estimated sexism of states as well as cities. Here are two maps, one with and one without bitch in its sexism screen.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

With bitch out of the equation, Louisiana looks much less nasty, and the other Southeast states also shade more towards the less sexist green. The Northeast and West, especially Nevada, now look more misogynistic. A few states remain nice no matter how you score the tweets – Montana, Wyoming, Vermont – but they are among the least populous states so even with Twitter data, sample size might be a problem. Also note that bitch accounts for most of what Abodo calls sexist language. Without bitch, the rates range from 26 to 133 per 100,000 tweets. Add bitch to the formula and the range moves to 74 to 894 per 100,000.  That means that at least two-thirds of all the “derogatory language against women” on Twitter is the word bitch.

There’s a further problem in using these tweets as an index of sexism. Apparently a lot of these bitch tweets are coming from women (if my small sample of tweets is at all representative). Does that mean that the word has lost some of its misogyny? Or, as I’m sure some will argue, do these tweets mean that women have become “self-hating”? This same question is raised, in spades, by the use of nigger. Abodo has data on that too, but I will leave it for another post.

Which Percentages, Which Bars

March 13, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Whence Trumpismo, as ABC calls it (here), as though he were a Latin American dictator? Where does Trump get his support? Who are the voters that prefer Trump to the other candidates?

The latest ABC/WaPo poll, out today, has some answers. But it also has some bafflingly screwed-up ways of setting out the results. For example, the ABC write-up (by Chad Kiewiet De Jonge) says what many have been saying: “Trump’s support stems from economic discontent, particularly among working-class whites.” Appropriately, the poll asked people how they were doing economically – were they Struggling, Comfortable, or Moving Up?

That’s pretty clear: economic circumstances is the independent variable, candidate preference is the dependent variable. You compare these groups and find that Strugglers are far more likely to support Trump than were the folks who are better off. Instead, we get a chart percentaged the other way.



Instead of comparing people of different economic circumstances, it compares the supporters of the different candidates. And it doesn’t even do that correctly. If you want to compare Trump backers with Cruz, and Rubio/Kasich backers, the candidates should be the columns. (The poll merged Rubio and Kasich supporters for purposes of sample size.) Here’s the same data. Which chart is easier to interpret?



This makes the comparison a bit easier.  The margin of error is about 5 points. So Trump supporters might be somewhat more likely to see their economic circumstances as a struggle.

There’s a similar problem with their analysis of authoritarianism. “It’s also been argued that people who are predisposed to value order, obedience and respect for traditional authority tend to be strongly attracted to Trump.” But instead of comparing the very authoritarian with the less so, ABC/WaPo again compares the supporters of Trump, Cruz, and Rubio/Kasich.



Instead of telling us who authoritarians prefer, this analysis tells us which candidate’s backers have a higher proportion of authoritarians. And again, even for that, it makes the answer hard to see. Same data, different chart.



Cruz supporters, not Trumpistas, are the most authoritarian, probably because of that old time religion, the kind that emphasizes respect for one’s elders. (For more on Cruz supporters and uncompassionate Christian conservatism, see this post.)

The poll has worthwhile data, and it gets the other charts right. The pdf lists Abt SRBI and Langer Research as having done the survey and analysis. To their credit, they present a regression model of the variables that is far more sophisticated than what the popular press usually reports. But come on guys, percentage on the independent variable.

The Workers

March 13, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

The last time I heard anyone talk about “the workers” was in Paris in 1976. A Hungarian student I met there was interested in Freud, but in Hungary it was hard to get books on psychoanalysis. Publishing resources (all government operated) were mostly devoted, she said, to books for the workers. She was not a strong supporter of the government, but she did say that it had made life better for the workers.

What struck me was the way she used that phrase, “the workers,” without a hint of ironic quotation marks, even when she was expressing some intellectual disdain for them. To me it sounded quaint, like something out of a past I had heard of but didn’t really remember. In America, we have workers, of course. Everybody works.  But we do not speak of “the workers.” That definite article would imply that they are a distinct class, a group with interests that are different from those of other groups. The Redsox, the Dodgers; the faculty, the students.

“The workers” also implies that social class is based on relation to the means of production. That’s not a thought that comes easily to Americans. When I ask students about social class, the first thing they mention is income, but when I ask for other aspects of class, long before someone mentions occupation, the responses run to “lifestyle” choices – consumption not production.

I was reminded of the absence of “the workers” recently when my colleague Vikas Singh noted this sentence in a student's paper on alienation: “We, the customers are alienated from one’s own labor.” “Alienated customers”? Was this a slip of the pen? Or was it, as Vikas thought, an indication of how far we have come in conflating “consumer” and “worker”?

To see what has happened to “the workers,” I ran the phrase in Google nGrams, and just to check on American exceptionalism, I compared the British and American corpuses.


The trends follow a similar pattern – rising to about 1940, then declining – but the rise of “the workers” in the 1930s was much steeper in the UK than in the US. After the decline during the War, Britain, with its socialist government saw a renewed interest in “the workers.” The downturn begins almost exactly at the point that the Conservatives and Thatcher come to power in 1979. In the US the downward trend is a nearly uninterrupted decline starting in 1937. By the end of the century, “the workers” appears only about a third as often as it had during the 1930s.

There’s a more recent trend in what we call people who work. They are still “workers” (though not “the workers”), but that term is fading. More and more they are “employees.”



From 1930 to 1980, workers outnumbered employees two or even three to one. Since 1980, that margin has fallen to about 1.5 to one. Perhaps the trend in words reflects the change in the labor market. “Workers” still wears its blue collar, and those manufacturing jobs have fallen from about 19 million in 1980 to 12 million today.


Fewer workers, more “employees,” a term that elides the difference between the sales clerk and the CEO. And perhaps that is the way we think about class. The sales clerk and the CEO have the same relation to the means of production; they both go to work and get a company paycheck. It’s just that the CEO’s paycheck allows for different lifestyle choices.


A Dream Disconfirmed

March 7, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

What happens to a dream disconfirmed? Does it dry up, a dream no longer? Or does it make commitment even stronger?

Ever since When Prophecy Fails, the 1956 study of a flying saucer cult, we’ve known the answer. People will reshape what they know and what they feel in order to preserve an idea that no longer squares with reality.

Failed prophecy was also the theme of a wonderful segment by Zoe Chace on This American Life two weeks ago. She had been spending time in South Carolina in the months before the primary there, and one of the people she met, Alex Chalgren, director of the state’s Students for Trump, was too good a story to pass up. Listen to the podcast (here), and you’ll get a sense of how remarkable and likable he is. You’ll also get a sense of how strongly he supported Trump.

You wouldn’t expect Alex Chalgren to be a Trump supporter. He’s not an angry White man. He is a male, but he’s a high school kid, eighteen years old. He’s not angry, and he is Black.

His early years were rough. He was bounced around from his biological parents to foster homes and back, to group homes and back to foster homes. Then, after a year of asking, he got his teacher in the third grade to adopt him. She later married, and now Alex has two loving parents, both White.

Alex shares the usual conservative talking points – hard work, not handouts; a wall against illegal immigrants; destruction of ISIS – and like his parents he’s an evangelical Christian. But then why not support Ted Cruz as his parents do?

There’s one issue that separates Trump from the Cruz and the others, and for Alex that issue makes all the difference – gay marriage.  “Trump is fine with gay marriage,” Alex tells Chace back in January.
   
“I'm gay. And so it’s big for me. And everyone knows I’m gay. . . . My parents know. Everyone knows. . . .  Trump is fine with gay marriage, thank goodness. And he’s a realist. He knows that as society moves on, we must move on. . . .   My biggest concern is gay marriage and the economy. For example, if it comes down to Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders, I might not vote or I might vote for Bernie Sanders.”

Now comes cognitive dissonance. The source of the dissonance was not his family – their love for one another clashing with their strong differences about homosexuality. They’d gotten past that. It was Trump.



As Chace says, Trump’s statement contradicts his previous position. Worse, it would seem to leave Alex in a Wile E. Coyote moment. He looks down and discovers that his grounds for supporting Trump have vanished. But unlike Wile E. Coyote, Alex can exercise the powers of mind over what matters. For example, he can say that what he sees and hears is merely a mirage and that Trump doesn’t mean what he’s just said. He can also deny that Trump’s statement is of any importance since it will not reverse the upward arc of gay marriage, and besides, some things are more important than even gay marriage – things like “the survival of our country.”



When people are faced with evidence that contradicts a strongly held idea, they adjust their perceptions and interpretations so as to protect their beliefs. When the flying saucers did not appear at the appointed hour, the members of the flying saucer cult in When Prophecy Fails did not stop believing. They came up with an explanation just as Alex did when Trump hedged his position on gay marriage. This tweaking of cognitions is not surprising. But the members of the UFO group also had a collective emotional reaction, one that was less predictable. The immediate despair and doubt gave way to enthusiasm as they took to spreading the word about the imminent arrival of UFOs. 
The sequence goes something like this
  • public commitment to an idea
  • disconfirmation of that idea
  • stronger and more emotional commitment to that idea (as long as there is a group to support that sustained commitment)
Alex seems to have gone through a similar transformation.




His main reason for supporting Trump has been disconfirmed, but his commitment is even stronger. He has raised the stakes from a rational support of Trump’s politics to a personal identification with Trump himself.  “You see how I do my hands here? That’s like Trump. He does this.”*

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* Needless to say, this was before the leading candidates of the party of Lincoln became obsessed with the length of Trump’s fingers and what that length might betoken.

(Earlier posts on reactions to failed prophecy are here  and here.)

Ignorant, Apathetic . . . and Realistic?

March 5, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Here’s a multiple-choice question:

1. Voting by people like me
    a.  doesn’t really affect how the government runs things
    b. gives people some say about how the government runs things

Yesterday, Pew (here) told us how we answered this question.


The Pew survey was concerned mostly with how people are getting their news about the presidential campaign. But yesterday’s report focused on those few Americans (9%) who are content to let a week or more go by without getting any news about the election.

“Half of this group thinks that their vote doesn’t really affect how the government runs things.”


The two sentiments – about the news and about one’s own influence – seem to be part of a more general feeling of alienation from government. The General Social Survey used to ask about this alienation with the variable ANOMIA7, which asks people to Agree or Disagree with the statement, “Most public officials (people in public office) are not really interested in the problems of the average man.” A clear majority – never less than 65% agree.


The GSS hasn’t asked this one since 2006, and the time before that was 1994 (maybe that “average man” has something to do with it.) A similar item in the 2102 GSS allowed for a more nuanced response.


This looks more like the uninformed Pew respondents – evenly split between “None/A Little” and “Some or more.”

But which side has the correct answer to that multiple-choice question? The disaffected, alienated citizens, the ones who don’t care to find out about the election and don’t think their vote or ideas matter – they are ignorant and apathetic. But might they also be realistic? And those of us who watch the news and the debates, who check out the political tweets in our Twitter feed – we’re certain to vote come November. We want to make a difference. But are we fooling ourselves?

In their 2014 paper (here) which got some attention even in the popular press, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page looked at 1779 policy decisions to see how the actual outcomes lined up with the preferences of three different types of people or groups
  • organized interest groups
  • “economic elites”
  • average citizens
They graphed the results to show how likely a policy was to be adopted at each level of support from each type of source.  For interest groups, they counted up the interest groups that favored a policy and subtracted the number that opposed it.

The more that interest groups were relatively unanimous in favor of a policy, the more likely the government was to adopt that policy.  (The preferences of interest groups were frequently similar to those of elites and to those of the public, so the authors statistically controlled for this overlap. The graphs show the effect of just one variable controlling for the effects of the other two.)

The data on economic elites showed the same kind of influence. The more that rich people were together on an issue, the more likely they were to get their way.

What about the average citizen?

The slope is close to zero. Ninety percent of average citizens may favor or oppose some policy, but  their preferences have little impact (unless, of course, these preferences are also those of interest groups or, especially, economic elites). These folks may be citizens united, but they are also citizens powerless.
As Gilens and Page summarize their findings.

Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all. By contrast, economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy. This does not mean that theories of Economic-Elite Domination are wholly upheld, since our results indicate that individual elites must share their policy influence with organized interest groups. Still, economic elites stand out as quite influential—more so than any other set of actors studied here—in the making of U.S. public policy.

When I first looked at the Pew data on the alienated non-voters, I thought about it in terms of cognitive consistency. If you don’t feel that your vote makes a difference, it makes no sense to bother finding out about the candidates.

The same logic applies to the “good” citizens. If you follow the news, if you develop a preference for a candidate, if you think it’s important who gets elected, then you will be more likely to vote. And if you’re going to vote, it would make sense to also think that your vote made a difference. So the news followers develop a false sense of efficacy. If the Gilens-Page study is right, however, if you want to have any influence at all, voting is far less important that other things you might do, like aligning yourself with an interest group, or getting rich – really, really rich.