Direct Political Power of Masses Sociology Help

Direct Political Power of Masses

In a democracy the ultimate power of the masses rests in their franchise to "throw the rascals out." Sometimes, it is true, this power is empty because both candidates hold the same values and serve the same interests. But whenever there is widespread mass discontent with the way things are going in a democracy, some party or candidate will appeal to this discontent, focus it on certain issues, and propose changes. The recent "tax revolt" is an example, as voters in ten states suddenly adopted tax-limitationinitiatives in 1978 and approved nine out of eleven such initiatives in 1982 [Ranney, 1983]. The elite cannot always veto changes sought by the masses. The reforms of Roosevelt's New Deal era, established over' the opposition of most of the elite, attest to the power of the skillfully focused discontent of the masses. Important as the power of veto may be, it does not altogether dispel the picture of the poor-as powerless to a£.fectdecisions concerning themselves. Alinsky [1965] and Piven and Cloward [1978] argue that the poor can utilize and must be able to' do so if their position is to be improved. They contend that the deliberate organization of the poor, stressing whatever grievances are most keenly felt, can lead to positive action. Through demonstrations, boycotts, and bloc voting, the poor can become one of the pressure groups in the community. They believe that, as the poor achieve power, they can prevent exploitation, formulate positive programs for their own J welfare, and replace ,a helpless apathy with ' a sense of being able to control their environment.

I  Efforts to involve the poor in policy making and administration of the poverty programs of the late 1960s were not very successful for a variety of reasons, including lack of participation by the poor and the opposition of local political structures [Kramer, 1969; Moynihan, 1969; Brill, 1971; Helfgot, 1974]. One critic notes that despite Alinsky's dedicated and sagacious efforts to organize the poor, it was mainly the relatively prosperous and well-educated that he succeeded in mobilizing, while failing to develop real leaders from among the truly poor [Bailey, 1973]. Even one of Alinsky's favorite projects, the Woodlawn Organization, admits that it could neither  maintain a persistent adversary stand nor solve unaided the problem. of neighborhood decay [Fish, 1973J. Some hold that organizing efforts of this type simplyhamper cooperation between different groups without leading to effective participation by the poor [Roach and' Roach, 1978J. Possibly the poor can be better by organizations including members of all classes than by organizations of their own important that a candidate's stand (or earlier vote) on this one issue alone will determine their vote for or against that candidate. This gives the single-issue voters a disproportionate power. A candidate or legislator will seldom disappoint even a small bloc ofsingle-issue voters unless then: is an equal number of single-issue voters on the opposite side of the issue. A ,half century ago, the prohibition issue attracted many single-issue voters. Today, gun.control.provides a good example of single-issue politics. Several national polls have shown that gun-registration laws are favored by percentages ranging from 63 to 84 percent of the public, But one careful study finds that the' opponents are twice as likely as supporters 10 say that this single issue would determine their vote upon a candidate [Schuman and Presser, 1978}. As long as  'single-issue opponents outnumber singleissue supporters by two to one, 'gun-registration laws are unlikely to be passed After .losing its campaign' for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, the National Organization for Women launched a determined effort to convert its members.into single-issue voters [MS.,.August 1982, p. 11].

Posted on September 4, 2014 in Political Economic Institutions

Share the Story

About the Author

Back to Top
Share This