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Class Bias in Voter Turnout, Representation, and Income Inequality

  • William W. Franko, Nathan J. Kelly and Christopher Witko

The mass franchise led to more responsive government and a more equitable distribution of resources in the United States and other democracies. Recently in America, however, voter participation has been low and increasingly biased toward the wealthy. We investigate whether this electoral “class bias” shapes government ideology, the substance of economic policy, and distributional outcomes, thereby shedding light on both the old question of whether who votes matters and the newer question of how politics has contributed to growing income inequality. Because both lower and upper income groups try to use their resources to mobilize their supporters and demobilize their opponents, we argue that variation in class bias in turnout is a good indicator of the balance of power between upper and lower income groups. And because lower income voters favor more liberal governments and economic policies we expect that less class bias will be associated with these outcomes and a more equal income distribution. Our analysis of data from the U.S. states confirms that class bias matters for these outcomes.

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