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Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America (Russell Sage Foundation Copub)
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Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America (Russell Sage Foundation Copub) [Hardcover]

Martin Gilens (Author)
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Book Description

July 22, 2012 Russell Sage Foundation Copub

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


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 )

From the Inside Flap

"Democracy is based on the ideal that every citizen has an equal potential to shape what government does. With care and without cant, Gilens shows that we are very far from this ideal in contemporary American politics. The economically privileged don't always get what they want. But, according to Gilen's pioneering analysis, they are much more influential than those below them on the economic ladder. Affluence and Influence is a landmark in the study of representation."--Jacob Hacker, coauthor of Winner-Take-All Politics

"When the U.S. government makes policies on critical issues, it responds to the preferences of the affluent, but often ignores the poor and middle class. Using public opinion and policy data in innovative ways, this eye-opening book explores the reasons for unequal government responsiveness to citizen preferences. For anyone who cares about inequality and democracy in America, this book goes at the top of the reading list. A home run."--Theda Skocpol, Harvard University

"Affluence and Influence is social science at its best, melding sophisticated scholarship with moral purpose. The book shows how better-off Americans sway elections and get the laws they want. If other citizens feel unrepresented, Gilens's analysis could be a first step toward redress."--Andrew Hacker, Queens College

"This is an important book, destined to be a classic. It is the definitive statement to date on a big topic: how general public opinion, the opinions of affluent citizens, and the views of organized interest groups affect the making of U.S. public policy. Containing scrupulous analysis and well-supported claims, Affluence and Influence will have great scholarly impact and reach broad audiences concerned with American politics, public policy, and democratic theory."--Benjamin I. Page, Northwestern University

"This book addresses fundamental questions about equality and democratic responsiveness in the United States, and concludes that government policies are more responsive to affluent citizens than to others less well off. Part of the novelty and richness of the book comes from its description of specific policy issues and cases, which provides a detailed and important picture of real-world American politics."--Robert Y. Shapiro, Columbia University

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