Can politics be studied scientifically?

Did you have some sort of statistics requirement?

I went over to Notre Dame’s website (arrived at via websearch of “Political Science”). As far as I can tell, “Political Science” and “Government” are synonyms insofar as university departmental titles are concerned. Notre Dame’s faculty in their Department of Political Science are divided into 5 headings: they are American Politics, Constitutional Studies, Comparative Politics, Political Theory and International Relations. I can imagine the methods of science being used or not being used in any of them. That said, historical and legal inquiry are legitimate endeavors and can be scholarly.

The OP: incidentally, the authors of the study use the term “Oligarchy” exactly once in the text. And that’s inside their literature review: it’s another researcher who use that term.

Pray tell: describe a place and age (say 40+ years) where the elite did not run the show and living standards grew substantially. In rhetorical (not scientific) terms the US has always been an oligarchy. And it’s usually succeeded in delivering a higher standard of living for the grandkids.

Oligarchy is the way of the world. This isn’t ancient Rome, the USSR or any number of toxic oligarchies of the past. And while blustering about corporations will give you some electoral traction, it will turn off the vast number of potential swing voters who depend upon Big Corp for their livelihood. The only thing the Greens ever did for the US is deliver their leader, GWBush, to the Presidency. Nobel Laurette Al Gore wasn’t pure enough for them.

Attacking the Koch Bros is another matter: apparently that polls well. Science!

You are assuming that Straight Dopers are more likely to agree with the political positions of the masses (defined in the study as Americans with near-median incomes) than of the economic elite (Americans whose incomes are near the 90th percentile). But is that true?

I can find no indication in the OP study of what the typical differences are between the two groups. But other studies say that the rich are socially liberal and economically conservative. That could be similar to here.

P.S. However, my ignorance of Kang and Kodos may have caused me to misinterpret your post.

By the way, has any study like this been done on cross-country comparisons? Can this model measure one country as more democratic or elite-dominated than another?

Likewise, within one country over time?

I can’t answer your question, but my sense is that c. 1970-2000 the US was perceived to be more populist relative to Europe. Public opinion with regards to the death penalty at the time of European abolition wasn’t especially liberal for example: that was an elite driven phenomenon. Similarly with other aspects of European penal policy. Europeans have also been known to turn their noses up at US actors and sports stars who become politicians.

Incidentally, an older anti-pluralist interpretation of US democracy was offered by Elmer Eric Schattschneider’s The Semi-Sovereign People (1960). Wiki: He says the “notion that the pressure system is automatically representative of the whole community is a myth” and, instead, the “system is skewed, loaded and unbalanced in favor of a fraction of a minority.”[3] And “the flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent.”[4] Schattschneider also thinks that US democracy is a pretty decent method of resolving conflict and it remains broadly responsive to the problems of the populace. However, to say that it represents the opinions of the populace is a distortion in his view.
My take is that while piss-poor public policy may gratify the ego of a few billionaires, it doesn’t necessarily serve their interests all that well, if you interpret interests in a remotely Maslowvian sense. Luckily the Gates, Musks and even Bezoses of the world seem to grasp this: it’s the silver-spooned Koch Brothers that don’t.

Ernest Rutherford won his Novel Prize for Chemistry. The laugh was on him.

I do happen to have a Political Science degree, and from a university that was starting to convert its Poly Sci department into a mathematical hotbed. Thankfully, it hadn’t gotten fully there before I graduated so I got to do mostly reading. Which is what I wanted, having been a Math major previously. Statistics was useful, though, and I took more in grad school. I minored in History and guess what - that department was swinging heavily into cliometrics at the same time.

Political science can never be a true science. People cannot be measured the way particles can. But as others have properly noted, looking for what behaviors can be measured is a hugely important corrective to the blathering that much commentary is larded with. The downside is that some practitioners limit themselves solely to measurable traits and so get bogged down in minutia that is not broadly meaningful. It’s a work in progress.

Why couldn’t it be? If you can define “oligarchy,” then surely one can determine if a society meets that criteria.

You can define oligarchy in any way you wish. The problem is that you can’t define oligarchy in a scientifically objective way that everybody agrees with. In today’s world, oligarchy is a simple pejorative rather than an economic or political fact.

But you don’t need to use a definition that everyone agrees with. Just define your terms and proceed.

My take is that the US is not run by a small group of people while China is rule by the Politburo Standing Committee. China has too much turnover in the top position to call it a dictatorship. It’s an oligarchy.

The US system of rule is Economic Elite Domination (or pick your model and substantiate). You can call it an oligarchy, but you’re going to need a lot of explanation given the traditional usage of the term.

The opinions of less than 100 people are what shape Russian policy. That’s a second sort of oligarchy, one that is more plausible than the US interpretation but that also requires some explanation.

But surely they had some criteria they were looking at, right? And this criteria could be measured, right? If you want to argue that that criteria does not define an oligarchy, that’s one thing. But even that doesn’t make the study invalid, just deciding an effective vaccine is one that protects 90% of people rather than 95% doesn’t change a study that finds the vaccine protects 93%.

For these purposes you don’t need to define any concept in a way everybody agrees with, only in a way all political scientists can agree with.

Have you ever met a group of political scientists? :slight_smile:

Nobody really wants a study that says that economic elites have a disproportionate amount of money. Everybody knows that. When you start throwing around words like oligarchy you’re talking about power. Power in that sense is not even supposed to be definable. You might as well substitute charisma or charm. You know it when you see it.

Obviously there can be and are many studies of economic elites. The one in the OP is one. Well, sorta. Its headline phrase is that “economic elites and organized
groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” which is not in fact the same thing. The blog post linked to in the OP makes that point when he talks about how the public’s view on gun policy is ignored, but that’s not from economic elites but from the NRA, and he uses a single extreme statistic to do so.

If you try to stick to true economic elites, many things about them can be quantified: whether they made or inherited their money, where they went to school, what businesses they are in, what their political contributions are, even where they vacation and who’s in their lunch network. I’m sure there are many interesting things that can be said as a result.

What people want, however, is for someone to say what They are doing to Us and what life would be like if they didn’t. My claim is that this is impossible in a scientifically objective way. I can’t prove this is so, in a scientific sense, but I can point to the fact that nobody has done so. And the OP’s study certainly doesn’t. It gives indicators that from 1981 to 2002 “mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” As his readers have commented, “well no shit, water is wet.” I understand that all taken-for-granted assumptions must be properly studied and shown to be correct so this might be important research. I would dearly love to know what the figures from 1789 to 1980 show, however.

My bottom line is that political scientists cannot answer the real questions that people want to know any more than physics can provide answers to what good behavior is. If what people want is to know if and when politics can be good behavior - and I believe it it - then it’s inherently unquantifiable.

You are saying oligarchies don’t exist?

Would political scientists agree with that?

Ask twelve of them. Be prepared for thirteen answers.

Actually, I think they would get together to work out a precise definition of “power in that sense” they all can agree on, and do it, and go from there.

I’m a little puzzled by your stance. Words don’t have intrinsic meanings: it’s perfectly valid to define oligarchy in various senses, then argue whether one version or another matches one country or another. A group of political scientists writing on the subject are more likely to use a wider set of definitions than the general public. And if they are reasonable, they will be capable of teaching their students that the US is an oligarchy by this definition but not by that one.

Applied statisticians in the social sciences rarely provide answers to big questions. What they can hope to do though is answer a small question that sheds light on a bigger one. If you want to address a big question in practice, you need to do some sort of literature review or alternative mechanism for weighing evidence.

Yeah, that’s what I said. The answer to the thread title is Yes: politics can be studied scientifically because it is. But the answers that those studies generate aren’t the ones that anybody outside the profession are looking for. In that sense, the answer must be no.

Don’t see how that follows.