In the realm of politics and civic engagement, there exists a phenomenon known as the “coincidence of wants” that has far-reaching implications for the effectiveness of collective action and the power of the people. This concept describes a situation where disconnected individuals, despite sharing common concerns and interests, often engage with the political system as isolated entities, each pursuing their own goals without coordination or collaboration with others who share similar objectives.
At first glance, this may not appear to be a grave issue. After all, in a democracy, each citizen has the right to express their individual preferences through voting or supporting causes that resonate with them.
However, the real problem lies in what happens next—or rather, what doesn’t happen. When individuals act independently and without coordination, their collective influence diminishes, and their ability to effect meaningful change dwindles.
Imagine a scenario where hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people, all with similar concerns about a particular issue, take individual actions to express their support or opposition. They may cast their votes, sign petitions, or make donations to causes they believe in.
However, once these individual acts are carried out, they often result in a scattered and fragmented response, with no mechanism in place to unify these voices.
The consequence is a situation where the collective power of the people remains largely untapped. Politicians and institutions, rather than facing a coordinated and organized force, are met with a series of isolated actions that lack the cohesion and impact necessary to drive change.
This fragmented approach to civic engagement leads to a scenario where the voice of the people is easily drowned out by more organized and influential interests.
A sobering statistic highlights the implications of this phenomenon: approximately 85% of Americans have lost faith in the U.S. Federal Government, according to a Pew survey tracking “Public Trust in Government: 1958-2023”.
This disillusionment is not without reason. When individuals engage with the political process as isolated entities, they often find that their influence over policy decisions is limited at best.
This is where the “coincidence of wants” becomes a critical issue. It perpetuates a system where the power to shape policy and hold representatives accountable is concentrated in the hands of economic elites and organized interest groups, particularly those representing business interests.
The influential study conducted by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page in 2014, titled “Testing Theories of American Politics,” provides compelling evidence that economic elites and organized groups have a substantial independent influence on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little to no impact.
The implications of these findings are clear: the traditional approach to civic engagement, where individual actions are isolated and disconnected, is inadequate for achieving meaningful change in the political landscape.
To address this challenge and regain the lost leverage, a new approach is needed—one that empowers individuals to come together, build consensus, and take collective action.
In the next part of this series, we will explore how emerging platforms like Public Assembly aim to transform the dynamics of civic engagement by enabling individuals to unite, organize, and amplify their collective voice.
It’s time to move beyond the coincidence of wants and toward a more impactful and cohesive approach to democracy.
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