Gilens' New Book, Affluence and Influence, Called "Landmark Study"

Tuesday, Jul 24, 2012

Affluence and Influence cover photoMartin Gilens' new book, Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America, looks at thousands of proposed policy changes, and the degree of support for each among poor, middle-class, and affluent Americans. The recent publication is already generating discussion among academics and in the press. Professor Gilens' book is the subject of a debate in the Boston Review (with responses from Larry Bartels, Russ Feingold, Matthew Yglesias, and Kay Schlozman among others), and he appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show, discussing with Ezra Klein the research findings presented in the new book.

Gilens finds that when preferences of low- or middle-income Americans diverge from those of the affluent, there is virtually no relationship between policy outcomes and the desires of less advantaged groups. In contrast, affluent Americans' preferences exhibit a substantial relationship with policy outcomes whether their preferences are shared by lower-income groups or not. Gilens shows that representational inequality is spread widely across different policy domains and time periods. Yet Gilens also shows that under specific circumstances the preferences of the middle class and, to a lesser extent, the poor, do seem to matter. In particular, impending elections--especially presidential elections--and an even partisan division in Congress mitigate representational inequality and boost responsiveness to the preferences of the broader public. Can a country be a democracy if its government only responds to the preferences of the rich?