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Poor Representation

Book description

Tens of millions of Americans live in poverty, but this book reveals that they receive very little representation in Congress. While a burgeoning literature examines the links between political and economic inequality, this book is the first to comprehensively examine the poor as a distinct constituency. Drawing on three decades of data on political speeches, party platforms, and congressional behavior, Miler first shows that, contrary to what many believe, the poor are highly visible to legislators. Yet, the poor are grossly underrepresented when it comes to legislative activity, both by Congress as a whole and by individual legislators, even those who represent high-poverty districts. To take up their issues in Congress, the poor must rely on a few surrogate champions who have little district connection to poverty but view themselves as broader advocates and often see poverty from a racial or gender-based perspective.


‘Kristina C. Miler's thorough exploration of the extent to which Congress represents the poor is a must-read for both Congressional and public policy scholars. Miler imaginatively uses data from the Policy Agendas Project to construct new measures of congressional commitment to programs benefiting the poor. She shows that even when congressmen face strong incentives to develop and enact such policies, they seldom do. This is a major milestone in our developing understanding of policy-based representation in democratic legislatures.'

Bryan D. Jones - J. J. ‘Jake' Pickle Regents Chair in Congressional Studies and Director, Policy Agendas Project, University of Texas, Austin

‘'The poor you will always have with you', says the Bible. A wag might add, ‘But they won't be noticed on Capitol Hill'. That at least is the undeniable message of Kristina C. Miler's deeply researched Poor Representation. Miler meticulously unpacks how the poor get represented - or, more often, not represented - by our nation's elected representatives. In the process, she adds to our understanding of unequal influence in American democracy while forging a promising new research agenda for legislative studies.'

Jacob S. Hacker - Stanley B. Resor Professor and Director, Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University and co-author of Winner-Take-All Politics

‘In this interesting and important book, Miler provides a comprehensive examination of the representation of the poor in Congress. She demonstrates that Congress, and the individual representatives that comprise it, are largely unresponsive to real-world indicators of levels of poverty and changes therein. By triangulating on the issue in a variety of ways, Miler offers an impressive and convincing account of the ways in which the poor are underrepresented in American politics.'

Tracy Sulkin - University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

‘This timely and comprehensive study of the voice of the poor in the lawmaking process breaks new ground. Using a broad range of data, Miler concludes that Congress does an inadequate job of representing the poor at the collective and district level, but there are ‘champions' in Congress who advocate for those in poverty.'

David T. Canon - University of Wisconsin, Madison

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