A New York Times editorial on inequalities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic and the urgency of building a more resilient nation cited research by Public Policy Chair Martin Gilens on the distribution of political power. “This nation was ailing long before the coronavirus reached its shores,” the editorial stated, noting that the fragility of U.S. society made it particularly vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19. Policies designed not in the common interest but to protect the wealthy are at the root of this reality, the editorial argued. It cited research from Gilens and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University showing that between 1981 and 2002, policies supported by at least 80% of affluent voters passed into law about 45% of the time, while policies opposed by at least 80% of those voters passed into law just 18% of the time. The views of poor and middle-class voters had little influence, the study found.
Public Policy Professor Martin Gilens was featured in a New York Times column on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ decision to drop out of the presidential race. The column asserted that the Democratic Party is made up of 60% centrist “establishment” voters, 20% progressive leftists and 20% neoliberals. Gilens argued that “Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and other progressive Democrats are fully justified in believing many of the policies they endorse are opposed by a Democratic Party establishment beholden to moneyed interests.” He added, “The Democratic Party aligns itself rhetorically with the middle class, but when push comes to shove, its policies reflect the influence of the well-off.” Gilens and co-author Benjamin Page describe what they believe are the consequences of a Democratic Party dominated by the affluent in their book “Democracy in America: What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It.”
An excerpt from Public Policy Professor Martin Gilens’ book “Democracy in America?: What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It” was featured on the Chicago Blog. In the book, Gilens and co-author Benjamin Page examine trends in voter turnout and recommend reforms to facilitate voting. Gilens outlines various policy recommendations to increase voter turnout, including universal, government-administered registration; making Election Day a holiday; more polling places and voter machines; and allowing same-day registration. However, he points out that reforms must also aim to decrease biases in participation. “When it comes to our central objective — making government policy more responsive to average citizens — the number of Americans participating in politics is actually less important than the representativeness of those who participate,” Gilens writes. “We want elections to be decided by an ‘unbiased sample’ of Americans, not by a sample that is biased toward the affluent or any other particular group.”
As Super Tuesday drew to a close after 72 hours of campaign twists and turns, Public Policy students and faculty flocked to a watch party at the Luskin School for pizza and political talk. The contest for the Democratic presidential nomination as a two-man race came into focus as returns came in from across the country. In addition to weighing the merits of Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, students talked about state and local races and the new voting centers rolled out by Los Angeles County for the March 3 primary. Many in the room wore “I Voted” stickers after casting their ballots at Ackerman Union. The crowd also included half a dozen international students who were fascinated by the political process unfolding before them. Professors Martin Gilens and Mark Peterson provided context and commentary as hosts of the event. They were joined by Associate Professor Wesley Yin and Visiting Professor Michael Dukakis, the former Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic nominee. Dukakis and his wife, Kitty, shared their own unique perspectives with students at the watch party.
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An Atlantic article about Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg’s financial situation quotes Public Policy Professor Martin Gilens on the disproportionate impact of wealth on government policy. The article explains that Bloomberg’s self-financed campaign has boosted his ability to compete against other candidates who are unable to adopt the same strategy. Bloomberg is worth an estimated $64 billion, which is 20 times as much as Donald Trump is worth, and his presidential campaign has already poured more than $400 million into advertisements, the article noted. A study co-authored by Gilens found that business lobbies and the wealthy “have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” While money alone is not enough to win the race, the article expressed concern that Bloomberg’s wealth has warped the political system to become plutocratic and elitist.
A New York Times article discussing the dangers of private campaign funding cited Public Policy Professor Martin Gilens’ research on the disproportionate influence of wealthy Americans in politics. The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case allowed corporations to spend freely on electioneering, making it easier for wealthy individuals and corporations to translate their economic power into political power. The article cited a dinner party last year at the Trump International Hotel, where wealthy donors spoke to President Trump about their corporate interests. They included the owner of a steel-making company who urged the president to let truck drivers work longer hours, even though studies show that driver fatigue is a frequent factor in fatal crashes. In their 2017 book “Democracy in America?,” Gilens and co-author Benjamin Page illustrate the disproportionate influence that the wealthiest Americans exercise in politics. According to Gilens, wealthy Americans are particularly successful in blocking even broadly popular policies they don’t like.
Professor of Public Policy Martin Gilens penned an opinion piece for the Times Union in support of publicly financed state elections in New York. A change in the language used in the New York state budget created a commission to review the potential of publicly financing elections. Gilens argued that New York can “reclaim democracy from the jaws of Big Money through a statewide system of publicly financed elections.” Reform is necessary because 40 percent of the money spent on federal elections came from 0.01 percent of the population in 2016, he argued. Affluent and organized interest groups hold more influence over the outcomes of elections, while the lower and middle classes hold virtually no influence, Gilens’ research found. Gilens said New York has the opportunity to challenge the status quo and promote a government for the people.
An article about the tax proposal New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described on “60 Minutes” refers to UCLA Luskin Public Policy Professor Martin Gilens’ research to shed light on the discrepancy between American opinions about taxes and the powerful influence of conservative multimillionaires. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to tax income over $10 million per year at a top rate of 60 or 70 percent sounds radical but actually aligns with registered voter polls, including both Democrats and Republicans, the Intercept article said. Gilens’ research, conducted with political scientist Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, highlights the concentration of power in the hands of the wealthy few. Gilens explains, “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.”
In an episode of the P.S. You’re Interesting podcast, UCLA Professor of Public Policy Martin Gilens discusses economic and political inequalities within democracies. Gilens’ research has found that “how much political influence a person has depends highly on how much income or assets they own. … Once you take into account the preferences of interest groups and the well-to-do, what middle-class Americans want bears almost no relationship to what the government actually does.” Despite levels of economic inequality that are the “highest in our history,” Gilens argues that Americans “shouldn’t accept the current degree of inequality and lack of responsiveness of the government to its citizens as something inevitable or out of our control.” Gilens’ solution of “more democracy” consists of facilitating engagement of citizens in the democratic process, including Election Day holidays and automatic voting registration, and forcing government decision-makers to respond to the preferences of citizens.
By Stan Paul
Retreating coastlines. An information revolution. The ever-evolving ethnic makeup of the United States. These are times of rapid change, presenting new challenges to how and where we live and work.
Meeting the challenges of this new normal and finding solutions to shifting problems and populations, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has undergone unprecedented growth. In fall 2018, nine new scholars joined Luskin’s faculty in positions that cross disciplinary lines within the School and across the campus. This follows the addition of six other new faculty members since 2016. Four more are being recruited.
This expansion is partly tied to the launch of a new undergraduate major in public affairs, but it’s about more than filling out a schedule of classes. The School has become one of the most diverse and interdisciplinary units in the University of California system, Dean Gary Segura said. The additions were designed to expand “expertise and social impact,” making the school “profoundly well-positioned to engage, educate, study, and contribute to California’s diverse and dynamic population.”
Among the new faculty, six are women and four are Latino.
Some already have strong interests in Los Angeles as well as ties to UCLA and the region, and others will have the opportunity to incorporate Los Angeles into their work.
“I’m extremely excited to be coming home, living on the Eastside and working on the Westside,” said Chris Zepeda-Millán, associate professor of public policy and Chicana/o studies. Zepeda-Millán, a political scientist who grew up in East Los Angeles, studies how mass protest impacts public opinion, policy preferences, identities and political participation. His book, “Latino Mass Mobilization, Immigration, Racialization, and Activism,” received awards this year from the American Political Science Association and the American Sociological Association.
Zepeda-Millán is thrilled to be at UCLA: “It’s truly a dream come true.”
Martin Gilens, professor of public policy, previously taught political science at UCLA. After a long stint at Princeton, he returned to UCLA, where he has multi-generational ties — his parents and grandfather are
Bruins. A native Angeleno, Gilens studies race, class, social inequality and their representational effects in the political system. He teaches courses to graduate and undergraduate students.
“I’m looking forward to the interdisciplinary environment of the Luskin School,” Gilens said. “My Ph.D. is in sociology, and I’ve taught in political science and public policy, so I’m a walking embodiment of interdisciplinarity.”
Natalie Bau adds global perspective and reach. She is an economist studying development and education, with a particular interest in the industrial organization of educational markets. She looks at cultural traditions — such as bride price and dowry practiced in some countries — and their role in determining parents’ human capital investments in their children, and how they evolve in response to the economic environment.
In Zambia, she and research colleagues are tracking the outcomes of 1,600 adolescent girls to evaluate the effects of an experiment that randomly taught negotiation skills.
“My research interests include understanding factors that impact police decision-making and public trust in police,” said Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst, who studies labor economics and public finance, including criminal justice and education. “I am also interested in how interactions with the criminal justice system affect individuals, families and communities.”
Amada Armenta earned her doctorate in sociology in 2011 from UCLA and returns as an assistant professor in UCLA Luskin Urban Planning.
“I am thrilled to be back, to contribute to a university that has played such a formative role in my education,” said the author of the award-winning book, “Protect, Serve and Deport: The Rise of Policing as Immigration Enforcement.” Most recently she has examined how undocumented Mexican immigrants navigate bureaucracies in Philadelphia.
“Put briefly, I study the social impacts of climate change and how cities are adapting,” says Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov. “My research specifically focuses on the adaptation strategy known as ‘managed retreat,’ the process of relocating people, un-building land, and restoring habitat in places exposed to flooding, sea level rise, and other effects of climate change.”
Koslov is working on a book aptly titled, “Retreat,” that follows residents of Staten Island in New York City whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and who subsequently decided to relocate rather than rebuild in place.
Like Koslov, new Urban Planning colleague V. Kelly Turner conducts research with an environmental lens. Her work addresses the relationship among institutions, urban design and the environment through two interrelated questions: How does urban design relate to ecosystem services in cities? And to what extent do social institutions have the capacity to deliver those services?
Turner said her approach draws from social-ecological systems frameworks to address urban planning and design problem domains. She has used this approach to investigate microclimate regulation through New Urbanist design, water and biodiversity management through homeowners associations, and stormwater management through green infrastructure interventions.
Joining UCLA Luskin Social Welfare is Amy Ritterbusch, who has led social justice-oriented participatory action research initiatives with street-connected communities in Colombia for the last decade, and also recently in Uganda. Her work documents human rights violations and forms of violence against the homeless, sex workers, drug users and street-connected children and youth, and subsequent community-driven mobilizations to catalyze social justice outcomes within these communities.
“My current research contemplates the dilemmas within our social movement in terms of how to create protective environments for social justice researchers and activists in the midst of working on and against acts of violence and injustice,” Ritterbusch said.
Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Carlos Santos draws on diverse disciplines, theories and methods to better understand how oppressions such as racism and heterosexism overlap to create unique conditions for individuals.
With a background in developmental psychology, Santos believes that developmental phenomena must be studied across diverse disciplines and perspectives. He draws on the largely interdisciplinary interpretive framework of intersectionality, which is a view “underscoring how systems of oppression overlap to create inequities.”