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Relative Policy Support and Coincidental Representation


The finding that the preferences of middle-income Americans are ignored when they diverge from the preferences of the rich is one of the most widely accepted and influential conclusions in political science research today. I offer a cautionary note regarding this conclusion. I demonstrate that even on those issues for which the preferences of the wealthy and those in the middle diverge, policy ends up about where we would expect if policymakers represented the middle class and ignored the affluent. This result emerges because even when middle- and high-income groups express different levels of support for a policy (i.e., a preference gap exists), the policies that receive the most (least) support among the middle typically receive the most (least) support among the affluent (i.e., relative policy support is often equivalent). As a result, the opportunity of unequal representation of the “average citizen” is much less than previously thought. The analysis also shows, however, that substantial opportunity exists for unequal representation of strong partisan preferences. Together, these results reinforce the importance of party identification for understanding policy outcomes and who gets represented.

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Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
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