A series of posts at The Monkey Cage describe Martin Gilens research on the connection between public policy and personal income.
These findings suggest that political representation functions reasonably well for the affluent. But the middle-class and the poor are essentially unrepresented (unless they happen to share the preferences of the well-off). In a second post tomorrow, I’ll discuss my more hopeful findings that reveal the (less typical) conditions under which government responsiveness to public preferences is stronger and more equal.
In my previous post I discussed the lack of government responsiveness to the middle-class and the poor, when their policy preferences diverge from those of the affluent. This inequality is pervasive: I found no circumstances during the decades I examined in which the middle-class had as much influence as the well-off, or the poor as much influence as the middle-class. Although pervasive, representational inequality does fluctuate. When the balance of power between the two major parties is close and when presidential elections loom, policy corresponds more closely to the preferences of the public, and more equally to the preferences of the more- and less-advantaged.
Can anything be done to make policymakers more equally responsive to the preferences of all Americans? Campaign finance reforms that reduce the role of large donors are one avenue to pursue. The current climate does not seem auspicious, but Citizens United was a five-to-four decision and perhaps a future Court will be friendlier to campaign finance reform efforts. In addition, competition-enhancing reforms like non-partisan districting might produce more competitive elections and induce policymakers to attend more closely to the public’s preferences. Finally, advocates can focus on those policies that are supported by the affluent and poor alike. Majorities of affluent Americans support increases in the minimum wage, spending for education, job training programs, Social Security, and Medicare (albeit with somewhat less enthusiasm than the less well-off).