Americans have a hard time speaking plainly about power. In their democratic culture, the word has negative connotations—power-mad, power-hungry—and the people who wield the most tend to downplay their influence. (Few like to own up to being truly powerless, either.)
This reticence leaves many citizens basically illiterate as to how power works: what forms it takes, how it is wielded and by whom, why it’s distributed the way it is. And that lack of understanding benefits the few who have both the clout to be heard by elected leaders and the know-how to get their preferences enacted into law.
The purpose of this quiz is to make the dynamics of power—by which we mean the capacity to have others do as you would like them to do—more visible. Its focus is not power in the workplace, at home, or in relationships, but rather civic power—the power you have as a citizen to shape public life.
The quiz is equal parts whimsy and wake-up call. What’s whimsical, of course, is trying to quantify influence. And trying to decide how much weight to give various forms of power, which we’ve broken down into six categories: money, ideas, force, crowds, governmental authority, and reputation.
But you’ll see in these 20 questions that even our crude method of calculating civic power reflects three truths.
Truth No. 1: Power increases exponentially. Being 10 times richer than the next person can mean having 100 times more influence.
Truth No. 2: In the United States, money and the ability to gather crowds matter more than other forms of power.
Truth No. 3: There is a wide gap between your potential and applied civic power. Almost all Americans could do more to raise money, mobilize people, or get a message out than they in fact do.
And that’s the wake-up call. This quiz is designed to reveal how few people actually make things happen in civic life in America—but also how easy it would be for them to have a greater say. Take the quiz and then scroll down to see how you measure up against President Barack Obama, Eva Longoria, and others.
Fewer than 1,000 points: Spectator
1,000–5,000 points: Active citizen
5,000–10,000 points: Mover and shaker
10,000–30,000 points: National power player
More than 30,000 points: Master of the universe
Who Has Influence?
Money: Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate and Republican donor (money score: 31,000; total score: 34,310), and Tom Steyer, a hedge-fund manager and Democratic donor (money score: 31,000; total score: 36,720), exemplify two important realities about money as power: First, it can buy almost every other kind of power—because they have money, Adelson and Steyer can disseminate their ideas, gather crowds, and influence government. And second, it’s fractal. The gap between the .01 percent and the 1 percent is just as big as the gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent. That’s why the highest scores in this section are 10 times greater than the highest scores in most of the other sections.
Ideas: Grover Norquist (ideas score: 4,110; total score: 17,220) has propagated a simple idea—that taxes are confiscation, and Congress should pledge not to raise them—with remarkable success and reach. He’s much better-known than Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi (combined ideas score: 2,610; combined total score: 15,720), the three activists who created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. But by setting in motion a debate in America about race, crime, and social justice, they showed that you don’t need celebrity to exercise civic power.
Force: Cliven Bundy (force score: 1,100; total score: 1,600), a Nevada rancher who believes he shouldn’t have to pay grazing fees on federal land, has rallied hundreds of armed militiamen to confront government officials. Bundy has managed to use intimidation to get his way, but because he operates so squarely outside the law, he has less clout than, say, the average police chief. So far, the federal government has avoided a direct showdown with Bundy, but if that were to change, we’d quickly see the limits of his power.
Reputation: The actor Eva Longoria (reputation score: 1,200; total score: 25,300) has wealth, celebrity, and millions of Twitter followers. But she uses her fame to amass broader civic power through the Latino Victory Project, a nonpartisan group she co-founded to organize Latino voters and donors around the country.