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Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age

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Overview

Using a vast swath of data spanning the past six decades, Unequal Democracy debunks many myths about politics in contemporary America. Larry Bartels demonstrates that the gap between the rich and poor has increased greatly under Republican administrations and decreased slightly under Democrats, leaving America grossly unequal. Bartels also argues that the working class is not being lured into the Republican camp by “values issues” like abortion and gay marriage, but instead because Republican presidents have been remarkably successful in timing income growth to election years.

Unequal Democracy is a deep and searching analysis of the political causes and consequences of American's growing income gap, and a sobering assessment of the capacity of the American political system to live up to its democratic ideals.

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Editorial Reviews

Dan Balz
…a provocative new book by Princeton professor Larry M. Bartels, one of the country's leading political scientists.
—The Washington Post
Daily Beast
[I recommend] Larry M. Bartels's Unequal Democracy. Especially at this time every thoughtful American needs to learn as much as possible about the relationship of politics to economics.
— Bill Clinton
CNN
Obama can connect with voters on the economy by using history as a guideline. He should start by reading Unequal Democracy, by Princeton academic Larry Bartels. The non-partisan and non-political Bartels points out devastatingly after an exhaustive study of Democratic and Republican presidents that the Democrats built a better economy and a more just society.
— James Carville
New York Times
Many Americans know that there are characteristic policy differences between the [Republican and Democratic] parties. But few are aware of two important facts about the post-World War II era, both of which are brilliantly delineated in a new book, Unequal Democracy, by Larry M. Bartels, a professor of political science at Princeton. Understanding them might help voters see what could be at stake, economically speaking, in November.
— Alan Blinder
New York Review of Books
Bartels is the political scientist of the moment. Along with Obama, Bill Clinton also read and recommends Unequal Democracy. [M]ost people on the street could have told Bartels that the working poor fare better under Democrats . . . but the importance of these and some other findings in the book . . . is that they use scholarly methods to provide political explanations for economic problems.
— Michael Tomasky
Washington Post
[A] provocative new book by Princeton professor Larry M. Bartels, one of the country's leading political scientists. One of Bartels's most intriguing conclusions is that the political timing of economic growth has influenced voters. Republican presidents...have often generated significant economic growth rates in presidential election years, while Democratic presidents have not.
— Dan Balz
Science
A short review cannot convey the rich variety of arguments and data Bartels deploys in making his case. Some of his analysis focuses on broadly characterized partisan differences, some on high profile examples such as the politics of the minimum wage and the estate tax. He will have done a considerable service if the next time we start thinking about economics we also think about politics. Bartels shows that social issues do not create as strong a headwind against class-based voting as is often assumed and that lower income voters do tend to vote Democratic while upper-income voters do tend to vote Republican. Unequal Democracy offers an important case for why this might be.
— Robert Grafstein
Staff Forum
[Bartels] is correct in drawing attention to the tension between the egalitarian values that Americans hold and their apparent toleration for growing economic inequality. And at every step of the argument, he defines and analyzes interesting and relevant evidence.
— Richard R. John
Journal of Southern History
Prodigiously researched and cogently argued, Bartels's timely work should interest academics and lay readers alike.
— Blake A. Ellis
Perspectives on Politics
Larry Bartels's Unequal Democracy is a major landmark in political scientists' efforts to grapple with inequality. . . . Bartels has done so much, and has done it so well, that anyone who quibbles with his interpretations or suggests that he has left important questions unanswered is likely to seem ungenerous, even churlish. . . . Unequal Democracy should be taken as a major contribution and as a touchstone for further research.
— Benjamin I. Page
Public Opinion Quarterly
For a book targeted at both academic and nonacademic audiences, Bartels strikes a nice balance between exhaustive empirical rigor and accessibility. . . . Bartels gives us a wide-ranging framework for thinking about the ways that citizens interact with the political system, and in so doing maps an agenda for the next generation of research on American democracy in action.
— Nicholas J. G. Winter
The Huffington Post
Unequal Democracy makes the choice voters face clear: Democratic policies spread the wealth and Republican policies protect the wealthy.
— Julian E. Zelizer
Newark Star-Ledger
[E]xtraordinarily insightful.
— Bob Braun
Daily Beast - Bill Clinton
[I recommend] Larry M. Bartels's Unequal Democracy. Especially at this time every thoughtful American needs to learn as much as possible about the relationship of politics to economics.
CNN - James Carville
Obama can connect with voters on the economy by using history as a guideline. He should start by reading Unequal Democracy, by Princeton academic Larry Bartels. The non-partisan and non-political Bartels points out devastatingly after an exhaustive study of Democratic and Republican presidents that the Democrats built a better economy and a more just society.
New York Times - Alan Blinder
Many Americans know that there are characteristic policy differences between the [Republican and Democratic] parties. But few are aware of two important facts about the post-World War II era, both of which are brilliantly delineated in a new book, Unequal Democracy, by Larry M. Bartels, a professor of political science at Princeton. Understanding them might help voters see what could be at stake, economically speaking, in November.
New York Review of Books - Michael Tomasky
Bartels is the political scientist of the moment. Along with Obama, Bill Clinton also read and recommends Unequal Democracy. [M]ost people on the street could have told Bartels that the working poor fare better under Democrats . . . but the importance of these and some other findings in the book . . . is that they use scholarly methods to provide political explanations for economic problems.
Washington Post - Dan Balz
[A] provocative new book by Princeton professor Larry M. Bartels, one of the country's leading political scientists. One of Bartels's most intriguing conclusions is that the political timing of economic growth has influenced voters. Republican presidents...have often generated significant economic growth rates in presidential election years, while Democratic presidents have not.
Science - Robert Grafstein
A short review cannot convey the rich variety of arguments and data Bartels deploys in making his case. Some of his analysis focuses on broadly characterized partisan differences, some on high profile examples such as the politics of the minimum wage and the estate tax. He will have done a considerable service if the next time we start thinking about economics we also think about politics. Bartels shows that social issues do not create as strong a headwind against class-based voting as is often assumed and that lower income voters do tend to vote Democratic while upper-income voters do tend to vote Republican. Unequal Democracy offers an important case for why this might be.
Newark Star-Ledger - Bob Braun
[E]xtraordinarily insightful.
The Huffington Post - Julian E. Zelizer
Unequal Democracy makes the choice voters face clear: Democratic policies spread the wealth and Republican policies protect the wealthy.
Forum - Richard R. John
[Bartels] is correct in drawing attention to the tension between the egalitarian values that Americans hold and their apparent toleration for growing economic inequality. And at every step of the argument, he defines and analyzes interesting and relevant evidence.
Journal of Southern History - Blake A. Ellis
Prodigiously researched and cogently argued, Bartels's timely work should interest academics and lay readers alike.
Perspectives on Politics - Jennifer Hochschild
The book is exemplary throughout in its transparency with regard to the data and Bartels's analytic strategy for using them, in its attention to alternative explanations for a given outcome, and in its balance between not over-reaching and asserting a clear, controversial, and important thesis. . . . Full of evidence, insights, and surprises. . . . The book is never less than provocative and is often revelatory.
Public Opinion Quarterly - Nicholas J.G. Winter
For a book targeted at both academic and nonacademic audiences, Bartels strikes a nice balance between exhaustive empirical rigor and accessibility. . . . Bartels gives us a wide-ranging framework for thinking about the ways that citizens interact with the political system, and in so doing maps an agenda for the next generation of research on American democracy in action.
Perspectives on Politics - Benjamin I. Page
Larry Bartels's Unequal Democracy is a major landmark in political scientists' efforts to grapple with inequality. . . . Bartels has done so much, and has done it so well, that anyone who quibbles with his interpretations or suggests that he has left important questions unanswered is likely to seem ungenerous, even churlish. . . . Unequal Democracy should be taken as a major contribution and as a touchstone for further research.
Public Opinion Quarterly - Nicholas J. G. Winter
For a book targeted at both academic and nonacademic audiences, Bartels strikes a nice balance between exhaustive empirical rigor and accessibility. . . . Bartels gives us a wide-ranging framework for thinking about the ways that citizens interact with the political system, and in so doing maps an agenda for the next generation of research on American democracy in action.
From the Publisher

Winner of the 2009 Gladys M. Kammerer Award, American Political Science Association

Winner of the 2009 Leon D. Epstein Outstanding Book Award, Political Organizations and Parties Section of the American Political Science Association

"[I recommend] Larry M. Bartels's Unequal Democracy. Especially at this time every thoughtful American needs to learn as much as possible about the relationship of politics to economics."--Bill Clinton, Daily Beast

"Obama can connect with voters on the economy by using history as a guideline. He should start by reading Unequal Democracy, by Princeton academic Larry Bartels. The non-partisan and non-political Bartels points out devastatingly after an exhaustive study of Democratic and Republican presidents that the Democrats built a better economy and a more just society."--James Carville, CNN

"Many Americans know that there are characteristic policy differences between the [Republican and Democratic] parties. But few are aware of two important facts about the post-World War II era, both of which are brilliantly delineated in a new book, Unequal Democracy, by Larry M. Bartels, a professor of political science at Princeton. Understanding them might help voters see what could be at stake, economically speaking, in November."--Alan Blinder, New York Times

"Bartels is the political scientist of the moment. Along with Obama, Bill Clinton also read and recommends Unequal Democracy. [M]ost people on the street could have told Bartels that the working poor fare better under Democrats . . . but the importance of these and some other findings in the book . . . is that they use scholarly methods to provide political explanations for economic problems."--Michael Tomasky, New York Review of Books

"A provocative new book by Princeton professor Larry M. Bartels, one of the country's leading political scientists."--Dan Balz, Washington Post

"A short review cannot convey the rich variety of arguments and data Bartels deploys in making his case. Some of his analysis focuses on broadly characterized partisan differences, some on high profile examples such as the politics of the minimum wage and the estate tax. He will have done a considerable service if the next time we start thinking about economics we also think about politics. Bartels shows that social issues do not create as strong a headwind against class-based voting as is often assumed and that lower income voters do tend to vote Democratic while upper-income voters do tend to vote Republican. Unequal Democracy offers an important case for why this might be."--Robert Grafstein, Science

"[A] provocative new book by Princeton professor Larry M. Bartels, one of the country's leading political scientists. One of Bartels's most intriguing conclusions is that the political timing of economic growth has influenced voters. Republican presidents...have often generated significant economic growth rates in presidential election years, while Democratic presidents have not."--Dan Balz, Washington Post

"[E]xtraordinarily insightful."--Bob Braun, Newark Star-Ledger

"Unequal Democracy makes the choice voters face clear: Democratic policies spread the wealth and Republican policies protect the wealthy."--Julian E. Zelizer, The Huffington Post

"[Bartels] is correct in drawing attention to the tension between the egalitarian values that Americans hold and their apparent toleration for growing economic inequality. And at every step of the argument, he defines and analyzes interesting and relevant evidence."--Richard R. John, Forum

"Prodigiously researched and cogently argued, Bartels's timely work should interest academics and lay readers alike."--Blake A. Ellis, Journal of Southern History

"The book is exemplary throughout in its transparency with regard to the data and Bartels's analytic strategy for using them, in its attention to alternative explanations for a given outcome, and in its balance between not over-reaching and asserting a clear, controversial, and important thesis. . . . Full of evidence, insights, and surprises. . . . The book is never less than provocative and is often revelatory."--Jennifer Hochschild, Perspectives on Politics

"For a book targeted at both academic and nonacademic audiences, Bartels strikes a nice balance between exhaustive empirical rigor and accessibility. . . . Bartels gives us a wide-ranging framework for thinking about the ways that citizens interact with the political system, and in so doing maps an agenda for the next generation of research on American democracy in action."--Nicholas J. G. Winter, Public Opinion Quarterly

"Larry Bartels's Unequal Democracy is a major landmark in political scientists' efforts to grapple with inequality. . . . Bartels has done so much, and has done it so well, that anyone who quibbles with his interpretations or suggests that he has left important questions unanswered is likely to seem ungenerous, even churlish. . . . Unequal Democracy should be taken as a major contribution and as a touchstone for further research."--Benjamin I. Page, Perspectives on Politics

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691146232
  • Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation
  • Publication date: 3/14/2010
  • Pages: 344
  • Sales rank: 521,024
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Larry M. Bartels is the Donald E. Stokes Professor of Public and International Affairs and director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

1 The New Gilded Age 1

Escalating Economic Inequality 6

Interpreting Inequality 13

Economic Inequality as a Political Issue 19

Inequality and American Democracy 23

2 The Partisan Political Economy 29

Partisan Patterns of Income Growth 31

A Partisan Coincidence? 34

Partisan Differences in Macroeconomic Policy 42

Macroeconomic Performance and Income Growth 47

Partisan Policies and Post-Tax Income Growth 54

Democrats, Republicans, and the Rise of Inequality 61

3 Class Politics and Partisan Change 64

In Search of the Working Class 66

Has the White Working Class Abandoned the Democratic Party? 72

Have Working-Class Whites Become More Conservative? 78

Do “Moral Values” Trump Economics? 83

Are Religious Voters Distracted from Economic Issues? 90

Class Politics, Alive and Well 93

4 Partisan Biases in Economic Accountability 98

Myopic Voters 99

The Political Timing of Income Growth 104

Class Biases in Economic Voting 110

The Wealthy Give Something Back: Partisan Biases in Campaign Spending 116

Political Consequences of Biased Accountability 120

5 Do Americans Care about Inequality? 127

Egalitarian Values 130

Rich and Poor 136

Perceptions of Inequality 143

Facts and Values in the Realm of Inequality 148

6 Homer Gets a Tax Cut 162

The Bash Tax Cuts 164

Public Support for the Tax Cuts 170

Unenlightened Self-Interest 176

The Impact of Political Information 181

Chump Change 186

Into the Sunset 193

7 The Strange Appeal of Estate Tax Repeal 197

Public Support for Estate Tax Repeal 198

Is Public Support for Repeal a Product of Misinformation? 205

Did Interest Groups Manufacture Public Antipathy to the Estate Tax? 214

Elite Ideology and the Politics of Estate Tax Repeal 217

8 The Eroding Minimum Wage 223

The Economic Effects of the Minimum Wage 227

Public Support for the Minimum Wage 229

The Politics of Inaction 232

Democrats, Unions, and the Eroding Minimum Wage 239

The Earned Income Tax Credit 246

Reversing the Tide 247

9 Economic Inequality and Political Representation 252

Ideological Representation 254

Unequal Responsiveness 257

Unequal Responsiveness on Social Issues: The Case of Abortion 265

Partisan Differences in Representation 267

Why Are the Poor Unrepresented? 275

10 Unequal Democracy 283

Who Governs? 285

Partisan Politics and the “Have-Nots” 288

Political Obstacles to Economic Equality 294

The City of Utmost Necessity 298

Selected References 305

Index 317

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