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The Party or the Purse? Unequal Representation in the US Senate

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 July 2019

Columbia University
Columbia University
The University of Chicago
*Jeffrey R. Lax, Professor, Department of Political Science, Columbia University,
Justin H. Phillips, Professor, Department of Political Science, Columbia University,
Adam Zelizer, Assistant Professor, Harris School of Public Policy, The University of Chicago,


Recent work on US policymaking argues that responsiveness to public opinion is distorted by money, in that the preferences of the rich matter much more than those of lower-income Americans. A second distortion—partisan biases in responsiveness—has been less well studied and is often ignored or downplayed in the literature on affluent influence. We are the first to evaluate, in tandem, these two potential distortions in representation. We do so using 49 Senate roll-call votes from 2001 to 2015. We find that affluent influence is overstated and itself contingent on partisanship—party trumps the purse when senators have to take sides. The poor get what they want more often from Democrats. The rich get what they want more often from Republicans, but only if Republican constituents side with the rich. Thus, partisanship induces, shapes, and constrains affluent influence.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2019 

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This project was funded in part by grant from the Russell Sage Foundation (G-6789, “Who Listens to Whom? Assessing Inequalities in Representation”). We thank Andrew Guess and Michael Malecki for previous work with us on uncertainty in opinion estimation. We thank participants at Columbia University, Wake Forest University, and the American and Midwest Political Science Association Conferences for helpful feedback and discussion. We thank the anonymous reviewers for their careful reading, advice, and patience. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



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