Government’s Unequal Attentiveness to Citizens’ Political Priorities

Source: Patrick Flavin – Baylor University, William W. Franko – Auburn University, This draft: August 6, 2015

An accumulation of evidence suggests upper-class citizens have a disproportionate influence over the policy decisions made by lawmakers in the United States. However, long before elected officials are asked to cast a final vote on a bill’s passage, an equally important decision has already been made: the decision for government to focus its limited attention and agenda space on the issue at all. Therefore, it is possible that political inequality is infused earlier in the policymaking process if the issues held important by some citizens are given attention while the issues held important by others are not. To investigate this question, we develop novel state-level measures of citizens’ issue priorities and find sizable differences in which issues rich and poor citizens think are most important and deserving of government attention. We then use bill introduction data from state legislatures to measure government action and uncover evidence that state legislators are more likely to act on an issue when it is prioritized by affluent citizens as compared to citizens with low incomes. These findings have important implications for our understanding of political equality and the functioning of American democracy.
Opinion: The more unequal the country, the more the rich rule
Source: Sean McElwee, Al Jazeera America, October 27, 2015
New evidence shows that inequality undermines democracy. … In a recent working paper, political scientist Larry Bartels finds the effect of politician’s bias toward the rich has reduced real social spending per capita by 28 percent on average. Studying 23 OECD countries, Bartels finds that the rich are more likely to oppose spending increases, support budget cuts and reject promoting the welfare state — the idea that the government should ensure a decent standard of living. … The same tendencies occur at the state level. Patrick Flavin, a political scientist at Baylor University, examined political responsiveness in the U.S. at the state level. He found that inequality in a state strongly correlates with political representation: More unequal states tend to be less representative. ….