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 Sociologists have long debated how power is
spread throughout the US population
 Weber defined power as the ability to get one’s way,
even in the face of opposition from others
 Decision making is complex and often takes
place behind closed doors
 Two competing models
 Pluralist Model
 Power Elite/Marxist Model
The Pluralist Model
 An analysis of politics that sees power as spread
among many competing interest groups
 Pluralists claim:
 Politics is an arena of negotiation
 Organizations operate as veto groups
 Realizing some goals but mostly keeping opponents from
achieving all of theirs
 Political process relies heavily on creating alliances
and compromises so that policies gain wide support
The Power Elite/Marxist Model
 An analysis of politics that sees power as
concentrated among the rich
 Based on social-conflict theory
 Upper class holds most of society’s wealth,
prestige, power
 Power-elite/Marxist theorists say US is not a
 Economic and political system give a few people
so much power that the average person’s voice
cannot be heard
 Reject pluralist idea that various center of power
serve as checks and balances on one another
 The difference between the two is that the
Marxist view sees the economic sphere as most
important, while the Power Elite view regards the
economy, government, and military as equally
Economic Concentration
 Most US corporations are small
 Assets less than $500,000
 Largest corporations dominate nation’s
 ExxonMobil
 Largest US corporation
 208 billion in total assets
 Corporations are linked through
 Networks of people who serve as directors of many
 This increases the concentration of power.
Labor Unions
 Decline in Labor Unions
 Organizations that seek to improve wages and
working conditions
 Widespread decline in membership
 Shrinking industrial sector of the economy
 Newer service jobs less likely to be unionized
 Aggressive anti-union campaigns
Voting in the U.S.
 How is our system set up?
 Winner-take-all plurality voting
 How does this differ from other countries?
 What are the implications of the
Special-Interest Groups
 People organized to address some economic or
social issue
 Employ LOBBYISTS to support goals
 Political Action Committees (PAC’s)
 Formed by special interest groups to raise and spend
money in support of political aims
 Does having the most money matter in public
elections? YES!
 90% of the candidates with the most money end up
Source: Bartels (2008)
Example of Military Spending
 Defense is US government’s third biggest
expenditure after social security
 US has emerged as the world’s single military
 More military might than the next nine nations
 Military-Industrial Complex
 The close association of the federal government, the
military, and defense industries
Federal Budget in 2010
 $3.7 trillion total
 $721 billion on Social Security
 $883 billion on medical care (mainly
Medicare and Medicaid)
 $692 billion on the military