- Elite (elitist) theory
The theoretical view held by many social scientists which holds that American politics is best understood through the generalization that nearly all political power is held by a relatively small and wealthy group of people sharing similar values and interests and mostly coming from relatively similar privileged backgrounds. Most of the top leaders in all or nearly all key sectors of society are seen as recruited from this same social group, and elite theorists emphasize the degree to which interlocking corporate and foundation directorates, old school ties and frequent social interaction tend to link together and facilitate coordination between the top leaders in business, government, civic organizations, educational and cultural establishments and the mass media. This "power elite" can effectively dictate the main goals (if not always the practical means and details) for all really important government policy making (as well as dominate the activities of the major mass media and educational/cultural organizations in society) by virtue of their control over the economic resources of the major business and financial organizations in the country. Their power is seen as based most fundamentally on their personal economic resources and especially on their positions within the top management of the big corporations, and does not really depend upon their ability to garner mass support through efforts to "represent" the interests of broader social groups. Elitist theoreticians differ somewhat among themselves on such questions as how open the power elite is to "new blood," the exact degree of agreement or disagreement that usually prevails within its ranks, and the degree of genuine concern (or lack thereof) for the broader public welfare that enters into their choices of public policy goals, but all such theorists broadly share the notion that it is these few thousand "movers and shakers" who really run the country and determine the basic directions of public policy, certainly not the manipulated and powerless masses of ordinary voters choosing among candidates at election time.