PolSci 101 – Strength in Numbers

The 1st in a Series Reviewing the Basics of Politics

Q: Why do some groups have strong political muscle and good political causes like science funding have to fight for every dollar.

A: Most people respond with one word: money.  But it’s not that simple.  Although money is important, it is crucial to understand what money represents:  political support.   In general, the more people who support your cause, the more political influence you carry.  

Citizen Scientists at work writing Congress.

Citizen Scientists at work writing to Congress.

Take energy companies, for example.  They have significant political pull because they employ people (AKA: voters) and provide energy to operate the economy.  Everybody needs energy, whether it’s to power a refrigerator or fuel a car.  If Congress failed to address energy companies’ concerns, 300 million Americans would have major problems getting to work and school.  Yes, energy companies make a huge amount of money, but they also provide a needed service to the community.  Elected officials would be hard pressed not to listen to them.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is another example of an organization that has big political clout.   The NRA is comprised of 4 million Americans who vociferously state that they have a right to own fire arms as guaranteed in the Second Amendment.  And, when the NRA says something, its membership acts; that is the definition of political power.  Would you go against an organization like the NRA in elected office?

The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), an organization comprised of Americans in the most politically active time of their lives (50+ years old) also has incredible political muscle.  I’m talking about a group with 40+ million members in all 50 states and territories.  Think about that number and how infrequently other age groups vote.  AARP may not have military coup level political muscle, but it does have more than enough to make Social Security a “third-rail of politics”.

Before you start saying “but scientists are such a small number of people,” it’s important to realize something: Science enjoys a good amount of support from members of Congress.  Why?  Because basic research into the physical sciences has led to most of the major economic advances of today, such as the ultrasound, the Internet, lasers and MRIs.  The entire country has profited from the research! 

If scientists better explained the benefits of their research to the public (i.e., the voters), we’d suddenly have 300+ million supporters, dwarfing everybody!   And AARP and the NRA would suddenly bemoan “those annoying scientists who get all the money.”

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