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Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America

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Overview

Can a country be a democracy if its government only responds to the preferences of the rich? In an ideal democracy, all citizens should have equal influence on government policy--but as this book demonstrates, America's policymakers respond almost exclusively to the preferences of the economically advantaged. Affluence and Influence definitively explores how political inequality in the United States has evolved over the last several decades and how this growing disparity has been shaped by interest groups, parties, and elections.

With sharp analysis and an impressive range of data, Martin Gilens looks at thousands of proposed policy changes, and the degree of support for each among poor, middle-class, and affluent Americans. His findings are staggering: when preferences of low- or middle-income Americans diverge from those of the affluent, there is virtually no relationship between policy outcomes and the desires of less advantaged groups. In contrast, affluent Americans' preferences exhibit a substantial relationship with policy outcomes whether their preferences are shared by lower-income groups or not. Gilens shows that representational inequality is spread widely across different policy domains and time periods. Yet Gilens also shows that under specific circumstances the preferences of the middle class and, to a lesser extent, the poor, do seem to matter. In particular, impending elections--especially presidential elections--and an even partisan division in Congress mitigate representational inequality and boost responsiveness to the preferences of the broader public.

At a time when economic and political inequality in the United States only continues to rise, Affluence and Influence raises important questions about whether American democracy is truly responding to the needs of all its citizens.

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Editorial Reviews

Monkey Cage blog
The best book in decades on political inequality. . . . Gilens's years of careful empirical research and his impressively fair and clear presentation of evidence mark a major step forward in the scientific study of political inequality in America.
— Larry Bartels
Huffington Post
[T]he findings in [Martin Gilens's book] are important, timely, and, at times, surprising.
— Glenn C. Altschuler
Pacific Standard Magazine
[F]ascinating.
Econlog
[I] was simply unaware of the facts presented in Martin Gilens's new Affluence and Influence. Gilens compiles a massive data set of public opinion surveys and subsequent policy outcomes, and reaches a shocking conclusion: Democracy has a strong tendency to simply supply the policies favored by the rich. When the poor, the middle class, and the rich disagree, American democracy largely ignores the poor and the middle class. . . . [I]ntellectually satisfying . . .
— Bryan Caplan
Monkey Cage blog - Larry Bartels
The best book in decades on political inequality. . . . Gilens's years of careful empirical research and his impressively fair and clear presentation of evidence mark a major step forward in the scientific study of political inequality in America.
Huffington Post - Glenn C. Altschuler
[T]he findings in [Martin Gilens's book] are important, timely, and, at times, surprising.
Econlog - Bryan Caplan
[I] was simply unaware of the facts presented in Martin Gilens's new Affluence and Influence. Gilens compiles a massive data set of public opinion surveys and subsequent policy outcomes, and reaches a shocking conclusion: Democracy has a strong tendency to simply supply the policies favored by the rich. When the poor, the middle class, and the rich disagree, American democracy largely ignores the poor and the middle class. . . . [I]ntellectually satisfying . . .
Choice
This nuanced, carefully constructed volume evaluates the relationship between growing economic inequality and political power in the U.S., finding that policy outcomes are biased overwhelmingly in favour of the affluent. . . . Especially impressive are his successful efforts at separating the influence of interest groups and political parties on policy outcomes from the influence of public opinion by economic class. His opening chapter on citizen competence and democratic decision making should be required reading for those who doubt the feasibility and value of a truly representative government.
American Interest - Nolan McCarty
Martin Gilens makes an important empirical contribution to the discussions about the effects of inequality on policymaking in the United States.
From the Publisher

Winner of the 2013 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award, American Political Science Association

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles Top 25 Academic Books for 2013

"The best book in decades on political inequality. . . . Gilens's years of careful empirical research and his impressively fair and clear presentation of evidence mark a major step forward in the scientific study of political inequality in America."--Larry Bartels, Monkey Cage blog

"[T]he findings in [Martin Gilens's book] are important, timely, and, at times, surprising."--Glenn C. Altschuler, Huffington Post

"[F]ascinating."--Pacific Standard Magazine

"This book is already being hailed as a landmark study of American political representation."--Thomas Ferguson, Perspectives on Politics

"[I] was simply unaware of the facts presented in Martin Gilens's new Affluence and Influence. Gilens compiles a massive data set of public opinion surveys and subsequent policy outcomes, and reaches a shocking conclusion: Democracy has a strong tendency to simply supply the policies favored by the rich. When the poor, the middle class, and the rich disagree, American democracy largely ignores the poor and the middle class. . . . [I]ntellectually satisfying . . ."--Bryan Caplan, Econlog

"This nuanced, carefully constructed volume evaluates the relationship between growing economic inequality and political power in the U.S., finding that policy outcomes are biased overwhelmingly in favour of the affluent. . . . Especially impressive are his successful efforts at separating the influence of interest groups and political parties on policy outcomes from the influence of public opinion by economic class. His opening chapter on citizen competence and democratic decision making should be required reading for those who doubt the feasibility and value of a truly representative government."--Choice

"Martin Gilens makes an important empirical contribution to the discussions about the effects of inequality on policymaking in the United States."--Nolan McCarty, American Interest

"Gilens' book, as with all good political science scholarship, provides the cold, hard data to prove a crucial hypothesis of our times, in this case that American politics responds only to the preferences of the affluent. . . . [I]t is certainly well-written by academic standards; it is clinical and precise, with a table of logistic regressions to back up every claim. So if you are looking for a rigorous study of the relationship between affluence and influence, then look no further. This book is a vital weapon in the armoury for anyone who suspects that American democracy might not be all it seems."--Maeve McKeown, New Left Project

"At a time when economic and political inequality in the United States only continues to rise, Affluence and Influence raises important questions about whether American democracy is truly responding to the needs of all its citizens."--World Book Industry

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691153971
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/22/2012
  • Pages: 348
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


Martin Gilens is professor of politics at Princeton University. He is the author of "Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy".
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Table of Contents

List of Tables ix
List of Figures xi
Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Citizen Competence and Democratic Decision Making 12
Chapter 2 Data and Methods 50
Chapter 3 The Preference/Policy Link 70
Chapter 4 Policy Domains and Democratic Responsiveness 97
Chapter 5 Interest Groups and Democratic Responsiveness 124
Chapter 6 Parties, Elections, and Democratic Responsiveness 162
Chapter 7 Democratic Responsiveness across Time 193
Chapter 8 Money and American Politics 234

Appendix 253
Notes 279
References 305
Index 323

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