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Class Attitudes in America

Book description

This book explains a long-standing puzzle in American politics: why so many Americans support downwardly redistributive social welfare programs, when such support seems to fly in the face of standard conceptions of the American public as anti-government, individualistic, and racially prejudiced. Bringing class attitudes into the analysis, Spencer Piston demonstrates through rigorous empirical analysis that sympathy for the poor and resentment of the rich explain American support for downwardly redistributive programs - not only those that benefit the middle class, but also those that explicitly target the poor. The book captures an important and neglected component of citizen attitudes toward a host of major public policies and candidate evaluations. It also explains why government does so little to combat economic inequality; in key instances, political elites downplay class considerations, deactivating sympathy for the poor and resentment of the rich.

Reviews

'This powerful and important book shows that - despite their reputation - Americans want their government to do more to help the least well off. With new evidence and rigorous analysis, Piston shows that most Americans believe the poor have less than they deserve, the rich have more than they deserve, and the appearance of public opposition to progressive economic policies stems from a lack of understanding of who benefits not an opposition to downward redistribution.'

Martin I. Gilens - Princeton University, New Jersey

'To understand the persistence of wide economic disparities in American society, Spencer Piston’s important new book places ultimate responsibility on elite politics and discourse rather than mass public opinion. This is a vital addition to the growing literature on Americans’ political views of class and inequality rooted in rigorous empirical evidence rather than conventional (elite) wisdom on both sides of the political aisle.'

Leslie McCall - Presidential Professor of Sociology and Political Science, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

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