Government and Politics

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was rather small, community power was nonetheless diffuse. Few political actors exercised decision-making power on all issues. Therefore, one individual or group might be influential in a battle over urban renewal but at the same time might have little impact over educational policy.

Several other studies of local politics, in such communities as Chicago and Oberlin, Ohio, further document that monolithic power structures do not operate on the level of local government. Just as the elite model has been challenged on political and methodological grounds, the pluralist model has been subjected to serious questioning. Domhoff (1978) reexamined Dahl’s study of decision making in New Haven and argued that Dahl and other pluralists had failed to trace how local elites prominent in decision making were part of a larger national ruling class.

In addition, studies of community power, such as Dahl’s work in New Haven, can examine decision making only on issues which become pan of the political agenda. This focus fails to address the possible power of elites to keep certain matters entirely out of the realm of government debate. Conflict theorists contend that these elites will not allow any outcome of the political process which threatens their dominance.

Indeed, they may even be strong enough to block discussion of such measures by policymakers. Who Does Rule? Without question, the pluralist and elite models have little in common.

Each describes a dramatically different distribution of power, with sharply contrasting consequences for society. Is there any way that we can reconcile the vast disagreements in these two approaches? Perhaps we can conclude that, despite their apparent points of incompatibility, each model offers an accurate picture of American political life.

Power in various areas rests in the hands of a small number of citizens who are well-insulated from the will of the masses (elite view). Yet there are so many diverse issues and controversies in the nation’s political institutions that few individuals or groups consistently exercise power outside their distinctive spheres of influence .

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