Democracy in the United States is as good as dead

photo credit:  Rainforest Action Network

hoto credit: Rainforest Action Network

The USA no longer has a functioning democracy. There are various reasons for this. Most pertinent is the influence of money in American politics. Lobbying has become a fundamental part of election campaigns and lawmaking. The amount of spending on lobbying in 2013 was $3.21 billion (but the unofficial amount might be up to twice as much). There are over twelve thousand registered lobbyists in Washington, mostly representing hugely rich industries and corporations. Interest groups pandering to the mega-rich’s needs undermine democracy as they ensure the US is run in the interests of corporations and not for the voting population.

Health and finance are some of the biggest spenders; in 2013 spending by the Health sector was $480m and $484m by finance (including real estate and insurance). What can this money buy them? The Dodd-Frank bill was designed to bring in a multitude of regulatory changes to the financial industries, in light of the catastrophic crash of 2008. Over $100m was spent by the financial industry in 2010 fighting the act –when it was signed into law –and over hundreds of millions more have since been spent attempting to limit the scope of the regulations. The very industry the act is trying to regulate has poured money into undoing or undermining new regulations. The general public –who’s interest it’s in to avoid another financial crash –have been completely unrepresented; in 2012, consumer protection groups sent 20 lobbyists to Capitol Hill. These were outnumbered by the 406 lobbyists sent by the top 5 finance industry groups. This is a typical picture of lobbying- the interests of the rich are protected whilst the unfortunate poor have to hope the lobbyists aren’t listened to.

Another aspect of America’s failing democracy is with its media, which is owned by just a handful of huge conglomerates. It has been calculated that six media conglomerates control around 90% of what Americans watch, read or listen to. In a functioning democracy the media should provide unbiased and comprehensive coverage of national affairs- so the population can make well-informed voting decisions. The ownership by a few conglomerates, with advertisers they don’t want to offend, and with rich owners and shareholders with their own profit-driven interests, means that integrity of news provision in America is fundamentally undermined.

The under-reported process of gerrymandering also plays a part–when the voting boundaries are manipulated to favour a particular party – in that it exacerbates the lack of choice for voters in a two-party system. After the 2012 elections the Republicans managed to retain a 33 seat majority in the House despite losing the overall congressional vote by 1.4 million votes- this is no small part due to the fact that in 2010 Republicans were largely controlled in redistricting.

The voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election was a pitiful 57.5%. With lawmaking and the media being largely controlled by corporations and large swathes of the population living in areas where the voting districts are designed to favour incumbent parties, it is no surprise that almost half of the population appear to have given up on American democracy altogether.


  1. 12 Feb ’14 at 6:19 pm

    Benjamin Treverson

    YAWN! Like we didn’t already know this was happening…can’t we find a different angle to examine the issue. Rather than using an already over used and obvious critic of the US political system. Surely some imagination could result in a different examination of the problems facing “democracy” in the US; if we could ever actually call it a “democracy”. A little thinking outside the box might have resulted in this article raising some deeper underling problems within the US, rather than an article lazily plopping the same old boring “rapid capitalism is bad” critique and backing it up with the same old boring facts…
    Not that this wasn’t “well written” it just was…um…boring…

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  2. 13 Feb ’14 at 10:29 am

    George Hughes

    Really interesting article, couldn’t agree more. Id be interested to see to what extent these factors hold true for UK democracy as well. Nice one!

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  3. Chúng tôi đang tới, cặn bã của Mỹ.

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  4. 14 Feb ’14 at 3:08 pm

    Deng Xiaopeng

    bye bye capitalists!

    the West sinks like ship Titanic

    shame maiden voyage of capitalism didn’t hit iceberg but take long time.
    No Matter.

    Soon American full of debt will run to star and red flag begging bowl to us. We say now, join the peoples and be rewarded Zhongguo is returning!

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  5. 22 Feb ’14 at 5:51 pm

    Frank Underwood

    You’ve been watching way too much House of Cards.
    All democracies have lobbyists, all systems have gerrymandering (just look at the way the UK’s electoral system works, was the PVSCA 2011 not just further gerrymandering?), all advanced democracies have seen a general trend of declining voter turnout.
    If democracy really was ‘dead’ or even dying, don’t you think there might be a little bit more public outrage in the US? The land of the free is unlikely to sit back and do absolutely nothing if their democratic rights are taken away from them.

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