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Elite Theory and Congressional Action

Info: 2284 words (9 pages) Essay
Published: 8th Feb 2020 in Politics

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 Elite Theory is described as a theoretical view that social scientist have towards American politics and government that generally explains that almost all political power in America is in the hands of the population that is relatively wealthy, privileged, or have high skills in society (Johnson, P.M.). The theory comes from the disproportionate advantage of those in the social elites that have more money to fund their campaigning, political influence, and their placement in society. The United States of America is claimed to be a democracy, which means that the system of government is to be based off the majority vote of the population or through an elected representative. In our government political system today, those in that hold a chair in congress or in some form of office within the government, are usually from the social elite class. Those who have connections, money, and social influence in order to gain them a spot. Although not all who hold a chair in congress are of the social elite, but almost all are or are connected to someone within the system. The elite theory suggest that the American political system is run by the elite and not in favor of the majority, to what extent does elite theory explain congressional actions? Are the elites in society influencing and persuading the votes of the majority for the best interest of the minority?

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 American government today is run by some of the wealthiest and high in society group of people and with social influence and ability to fund their campaigns. When getting elected into congress or a position within the government, for most positions you have to be voted in by the population, whether that be the whole population vote or representatives that vote in that area’s best interest. When it comes to representatives voting for the population, usually those people are also of the higher elite group. Those who are running that are of the elite have more funding and endorsement from companies or big corporations that influence the public to vote for them or campaign in order to get their name and ideas out to the public. “The theoretical view held by many social scientists which holds that American politics is best understood through the generalization that nearly all political power is held by a relatively small and wealthy group of people sharing similar values and interests and mostly coming from relatively similar privileged backgrounds”, which is represented in such cases as the presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (Johnson, P.M.). This is shown with the both of them being already of the elite class and being able to fund and be promoted by others of higher society to influence the public, as well as their social standing that they had started with in politics. With money being a factor and societal standing previously those people are able to use their “networks of interactions” among the public to influence their political ideas and activities (Munger, M.C.). Those who run against them who are not from the elite group have to work hard to fundraise, and find people who will endorse them and their ideas, but even with their hard efforts they usually do not beat their opponent from the elite group. The elites that are categorized to be superior to others in intelligence, social standing, or wealth, which not all are running for a congressional spot in the government, but are the elites on the other side that are big corporations, companies, and names in society who endorse those running for congress or another position in government.

 In the United States of America, the political system is a democracy in which those who are within the population, are of the age eighteen, and registered to vote on decision that will be made by congress, to be able to have the best interest of the majority of the public in mind when deciding whether or not to pass a proposition or to elect someone into office. Some see the United States as being ran by the minority, which are the elites, who are the minority and are seen to be of higher intelligence, social standing, and wealth. Their ranking in society is based on their personal connections and positions within their corporation, but “… does not really depend upon their ability to garner mass support through efforts to “’represent’” the interest of broader social groups” (Johnson, P.M.). The elite being within the top people that are apart of congress and are supposed to be making decisions for the greater of the population, but that can be hard when the influence of the ideas come from people who do not live or are a part of the problem. The problem being the big pay gap between the working class and the higher elite, making society have a superior group or groups, that can over run and fund campaigns to influence the public that they are the best choice when you go to vote. Large “… expense accounts and paid handsomely, they could exercise national influence not only through companies, but through the roles that would be called upon to serve in “’the national interest’”, they influence and persuade people to think that what they are proposing will be for the greater good and will help in the long run, although there are times when their best interest is within their own social class and use companies and social connections to endorse them as they have a persuading influence on the public (Wolfe, A.). If all the top leaders in society, in most high ranking areas of society are within the same social group, then the influence becomes narrowed and the decisions being made are from a less broaden view of society, which negatively effects the public interest. When people from areas of middle or working class become a part of the government or higher areas of society the interest of the majority will better be represented. When looking back in history and even in cases now, “the very top positions – such as the secretaries of state or defense – were occupied by men with close ties to the leading national corporations in the United States”, and what better way to get into office than be endorsed or promoted by someone who already has a high influence and standing in the public eye. An example of this happening in today’s society would be, Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh for a chair on the Supreme Court. Popular opinion polls are not always taken into consideration as they sample a small population and do not always represent the majority, but when looking at the popular opinion polls towards Kavanaugh, he was not favored. Although in such cases like Kavanaugh, although popular opinion polls show that the majority, of even the small population that have been participated in the poll, did not want to see Kavanaugh be confirmed, but with the endorsement of Trump, Kavanaugh’s personal background, and the allegations being changed and stories not adding up, he ended up being confirmed to his chair on the Supreme Court. The elite are amongst the most influential people in government and society, the influence they have can be a factor in how people vote, but there is not factual way to prove that they influence people enough that they completely run the political system.

 Some could view the American political system to be influenced by the elites of society, that the interest of the majority ends up getting lost when it comes to congressional actions. The elite group in society are more likely to be within the political and government system as they have the connections, intelligence, social standing, and wealth to support them in their endeavors. Elite theory being explained as a small group of people that hold power at an unequal level of privilege, skill in society, political power or influence, and wealth. Since the elite can fund or support their own campaign or have connections to endorse them while running, and when the race gets competitive they hire a political consultant. Those who are of the elite are more likely to hire the more qualified and experienced political consultants, this is because “… receiving payment should be a key source of hesitation with taking on a client who is not assured victory”, this being that if the client that the political consultant takes on does not end up winning the election, not only does that give a bad reputation to the political consultant, but that risk them not getting paid because that person did receive their endorsements or could not fund them in the long run (Cain, S.). Although is the political consultant takes on someone from the elite group who is running for a position in the government, they have a higher chance of winning the elections because they already have a social status and funding from themselves personally, as others within their connections will contribute and make donations to support them. Congressional action is based upon the idea to keep the majorities best interest in mind, those who are within the small group of elites that are representatives and a part of congress may be there with the majority interest in mind, but they are not a part of the majority. How does one or many who are not amongst the majority, get to decide whether or not a bill, proposition, or a vote for person who is coming in a high position in government, is within the best interest of the majority. Those who should be within the government should not only be those who have high up connections, wealth, and already high social standing by affiliation, but be those who are within or have been amongst the working and middle class for the majority of their life. The middle class and the working class are the majority in the United States and with their voices in higher position of power we will get the voice of the people within the government, not just someone who takes information and statistics and uses them towards decided what the population would best vote or for the representative to vote within what they think is the best interest for the majority. “Elite theorist respond that elites do differ, but that such conflicts are largely solved by mediating mechanisms evolved within the business community”, that a lot of those that are within the small group that are referred to as elites see politics and government as a business transaction or deal, a sort of “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” (Munger, M.C.). An example would be a firm or corporation endorsing someone and promoting their companies name in your campaign or the company having a goal that will further your campaign in a positive influence.

 Elite theory is known as the theoretical view from which social scientists see American politics and government as the power being held by a small and wealthy group of intellectuals and businessmen, those who have a high skill set and social standing in society. The American political system is said to be a democracy in which the system of government by the entirety of the population votes in eligible members of the state to be representatives for the majority in government. This gives control over the government by the majority of its members having a right to vote for those who run government. Congressional actions can be explained by the elite theory, but not completely. Although we do have a majority of members in office that are of the elite, they still live within the country and states that the majority do and although they are in higher ranking positions of work, they as humans are not superior to the majority. They may be more wealthy, higher social standing, and some may have higher intelligence, but they do not dictate the government. The majority of the people vote in those who represent us in congress and the duty of congress is to have the publics best interest in mind. Elite theory explains congressional actions to an extent that people who already are of wealth, higher intelligence, social standing, and skill, are more inclined to be well known, influential, connected, and have a higher chance of being elected in than those who are not as wealthy or in a higher social standing. Although they have an influence on American political system, the elite do not explain all congressional action, as the political system is still a democracy that gives a right to the people who are of the population to vote those running into office and based of their ideas and goals shared, vote for who we think will best represent the majority in Congress. The political system would have to be abolished and restarted from the ground to be able to re-equalize the playing field of the elite and the working class.


  • Cain, S (2011). An Elite Theory of Political Consulting and Its Implications for U.S. House Election Competition. Political Behavior, 33(3), 375–405.
  • Johnson, Paul M. (1994). Elite (elitist) Theory. A Glossary of Political Economy Terms. Auburn University.
  • Munger, Michael C. (1993). The Structure of Corporate Political Action: Interfirm Relations and Their Consequences. American Political Science Review, 87(1), 219-220.
  • Prewitt, Kenneth. (1973). The Ruling Elites: elite theory, power, and American democracy. New York: Harper and Row.
  • Sall, D., & Khan, S. (2017). What elite theory should have learned, and can still learn, from W.E.B. DuBois. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 40(3), 512-514.
  • Wolfe, Alan. (May 1999) The Power Elite Now. The American Prospect.


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