Distribution of Political Power
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 wins. By virtue of the way that the system is designed there are inherent inequities that occur with groups that are under-represented in terms of race, class, and gender.
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 is twofold. 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.
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 prone to violence and crime, this type of legislation harms them. This fact also shows how inequitable the political system can 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 (Timm, 2013). Despite the majority of Americans calling for tougher laws that could reduce deaths in black communities, the government consistently kills policy that is in favor of less control.
In the US, class is often associated with money. It is possible to move from one class to another but often class movement is limited by policymaking that reduces the ability of individuals to advance. For example, racial minorities and women are the least likely to be able to move upwards in terms of class 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 (AAUW, 2016). 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.
One of the most salient issues in special 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 special 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.
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 and change. For example, as early as 1948 it was recognized that homosexuality was not a mental illness (Kinsey, 1948). 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 (APA, 2011). 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 more efficient changes in politics. However, it is the division of parties and special interest groups that often reinforce inequity in politics. For example, the Republican party is smaller than the Democratic party and it should be losing many key policy issues due to the size of the Democratic party and the fact that there is a large swing vote that often leans to the Democrats (Jones, 2012). 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 interests 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 that has occurred in the current political environment is the displeasure that many Americans hold for special interest groups. In 2016, Donald Trump gained control of the Republican party and many traditionally democratic voters by appearing to speak for these groups. This has occurred because many voters see special interest groups as negative and identify with Trump’s rhetoric and representation of issues despite the fact that he has targeted minorities and other underrepresented groups. So while special interest groups can and have made beneficial contributions for those lacking political power, they often damage these individual’s ability to gain power and improve life chances.
AAUW. (2016). Our Mission. Retrieved from AAUW: http://www.aauw.org/who-we-are/
APA. (2011). Therapies focused on attempts to change sexual orientation (reparative or conversion therapies) position statement. Retrieved from American Psychiatric Association: http://www.psychiatry.org/practice/professional-interests/diversityomna/diversity-resources/apa-position-statements-related-to-diversity
Jones, J. M. (2012). Record-High 40% of Americans Identify as Independents in ’11. Retrieved from Gallup: http://www.gallup.com/poll/151943/Record-High-Americans-Identify-Independents.aspx
Kinsey, A. (1948). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Indiana, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
Timm, J. C. (2013). Poll: Majority of Americans support gun control, assault weapons ban. (MSNBC, Producer) Retrieved from MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.com/morning-joe/poll-majority-americans-support-gun-control