Monthly Archives: November 2014

Republicans at a Crossroads: Win Over People Of Color, or Make Sure They Don’t Vote?

Last week’s election has seen many Republicans scoffing at the thesis, put forward by John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira in 2004, that there was an“Emerging Democratic Majority” that would usher in a long period of Democratic dominance. Ross Douthat, for example, has written of an “Evaporating Democratic Majority.” The subsequent analysis has often focused on low turnout among young voters — an important story, but far from the whole thing. In fact, this election sets the stage for how the Republican Party will react to changing demographics over the next several election cycles. Will they change their policies to appeal to a how America has changed, or will they try to change who gets to vote?

The dramatic age gap in the most recent midterm election has been frequently noted in recent discussions on the midterms. While it is certainly important that only 12 percent of voters in the most recent election were under 30 and 37% were over 60, this doesn’t tell much. About 12% of voters in the 2010 and 2006 elections were under 30 as well, if anything the increasing gap is largely due to the aging of the population (and persistent gaps in youth turnout). However, while the “liberalism” of youth has been widely discussed, there are problems with the narrative, among them, the huge differencesbetween young whites and young people of color (see chart). Much of the liberalism of millennials is not that young whites are more liberal, but simply that there are fewer of them. Even with these caveats, it’s clear that much of the current Republican agenda (particularly opposition to gay marriage) is anathema to young voters, while racial appeals make voters of color who might otherwise support Republicans wary.


The question for Republicans is how they will respond to an increasingly diverse population and one that doesn’t support their agenda. One option, and the one that gave them the Senate this year, is massive voter suppression. They will have many more opportunities for such suppression: Before the election, Republican controlled 59 of the 98 state legislative chambers; they now control 67. That means they’ll be able to pass more ALEC-sponsored legislation to reduce reproductive rights, bust unions and cut education and health insurance. It also means that Democrats will find it difficult to win back these chambers in time for the 2020 redistricting. (Redistricting is part — though not all — of the reason for Republican stranglehold over the House.) Republicans will also have leeway to pass even more restrictive voting laws — rolling back same-day registration and early voting, passing voter ID laws and tightening restrictions on convicted felons. All of these laws are proven to shift the electorate toward conservative policies by reducing turnout among people of color, young people and low-income people. Unsurprisingly, the ones already on the books have worked, and the 2014 midtermhad lower turnout than any election since 1942 (before the Voting Rights Act).

As I’ve shown, there is a strong chance that felon disenfranchisement laws affected the outcomes of important Senate races. I also found evidence that voter ID laws (particularly those that required a photo ID) reduced turnout. These findings are support by academic studies on the question. Long story short: It’s almost certain that voter suppression efforts led to an election in which three in ten eligible citizens voted. It’s highly likely that they tilted the playing field toward conservative politicians.

Republicans as a party could likely remain viable for a while with this strategy. They control enough legislatures to effectively gerrymander the congressional map. The Senate favors sparsely populated Conservative states. Democrats are concentrated in urban areas which further solidifies Republican avantages. Republicans would have trouble getting enough voters to win the Presidency, but with control of both bottom chambers, they could still gridlock the political system. Since such gridlock primarily benefits the rich, who are the main constituency of the Republican party, this isn’t much of a problem. Further, research shows that when whites are informed that the country is becoming increasingly diverse, they show a stronger preference for the Republican party. Recentresearch by Felix Danbold and Yuen J. Huo finds the whites informed that they will no longer be the majority in 2050 are less likely to say they support diversity. Political scientist Spencer Piston tells Salon that in his research using the American National Election Studies data, “I find no relationship between age and prejudice against blacks (as measured by a stereotype battery) among whites.” This suggests that voter suppression and coded racial appeals could serve Republicans for a long time.

The other option is for Republicans to tailor their agenda to people of color. While this may seem impossible — given the recent race-baiting by a gargle of Republican candidates — it is not. Spencer Piston recently released research showing that light-skinned Latinos and Asian-Americans are more likely to support Republicans than darker-skinned Latinos and Asian-Americans. He tells Salon that this held even after controlling for income, nationality and gender. Further, in currently unpublished research, he finds that support for redistribution is not affected by skin tone. This suggests that Republicans could possibly win over some Latino voters with a conservative message, if only they reduced racial resentment. But they won’t.

As I’ve shown, the class bias in our electorate benefits the rich. One study of developed countries finds that in countries with higher turnout, governments redistribute more money. The U.S. has the second lowest rate of turnout among OECD countries, and it also, unsurprisingly, has some of the lowest levels of redistribution. As long as the Republican party serves the interests of the rich, it will work endlessly to suppress low-income voters. Further, it will hold the government in gridlock, which benefits the rich.

At the end of the day, the sad fact is that the more people who vote, the worse it is for the wealthy people who overwhelmingly support Republicans.

There were other factors at play in the Senate race, certainly. The incredible cynicism of modern conservatives — who both actively sabotage government and then complain when it doesn’t works — was important. Americans, constantly told by pundits that a President should lead, appear to be unable to understand that deep structural factors prevent himfrom doing so (a problem on both sides). Further, in many races, the liberal candidateswere simply inept, and those who ran on truly progressive agendas, like Governor Malloy of Connecticut, did well.

However, it cannot be ignored that in recent years, one political party has centered their election agenda around disenfranchising voters. Midterms are historical bad for groups that vote Democratic, but massive voter suppression is the only way to explain the Republican “wave.”  With the aid of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County,states have been able to pass legislation which cause mass disenfranchisement. There will certainly be more. As the country becomes more diverse, the Republican party has a choice: play on racial fears, stoking racial animus or try to broaden its coalition of voters. Right now, it has prefered the former. That isn’t good for democracy.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

Russell Brand is wrong: Voting really can change America for the better

Last year, Russell Brand declared in a New Statesman article that he had never voted because he “regard[s] politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites.” And Brand, in many ways, is right — just not about voting. A growing body of political science literature actually finds that voting is an incredibly important lever of policy change. To understand why, though, we need to start with the matter of class.

The class bias in voter turnout in America is strong. A recent study estimates that in 2008, voter turnout among the wealthiest 1 percent of the population was an astronomical 99 percent. It’s not surprising that this level of participation doesn’t hold for all tax brackets; yet the chart below still shows a startling trend. There is only a single instance over the past three election cycles of a lower income bracket having higher turnout than a higher bracket.

For a long time, political scientists weren’t worried about turnout disparities. In their seminal 1980 study on the question (using data from 1972), Raymond Wolfinger and Steven Rosenstone argued that, “voters are virtually a carbon copy of the citizen population.” Later, in a 1999 study, Wolfinger and Benjamin Highton find a slightly larger gap between voters and non-voters, but still conclude that “non-voters appear well represented by those who vote.”

However, in a more recent review of the data, Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler find “enduring and increasing” differences between voters and non-voters on issues relating to class-based issues.  They find that non-voters are far more likely to support union organizing, a job guarantee and universal health insurance.

Why the differences in the studies? It turns out, the reason is historical. Difference between voters and non-voters with regards to the size of government and redistributionweren’t as strong in the 1970s and 1980s, when the earlier studies were conducted; since then, according to Larry Bartels, the U.S. has become a world leader in class conflict over government spending. These biases began accelerating at the end of the 1980s.

Since then, the Leighley and Nagler thesis has enjoyed increasing support. A 2012 Pewsurvey revealed similar differences, with non-voters far more supportive of government intervention in the economy and far more supportive of the Affordable Care Act. A Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) study of Californians from 2006 finds that non-voters are also more likely to support higher taxes and more services. They were more likely to oppose Proposition 13 — a constitutional amendment that limits property taxes — and to support affordable housing.

Given all of this, it’s unsurprising that the current Republican electoral strategy is based around disenfranchisement through means like voter ID laws. Consider a Pew poll taken from before the 2012 election: Among “likely voters,” Obama and Romney were split, with 47 percent of voters each. Among non-voters, however, Obama had 59 percent support, compared with Romney’s 24 percent support.


One problem with this is that turnout inequality affects both parties — pulling the Democrats and Republicans to the right. The corollary is that voter suppression efforts pursued by Republican partisans also affect the behavior of Democrats. And there is strong evidence that voter suppression efforts increase turnout inequality.

For instance, one study finds that “state voter registration laws pose a substantial barrier” to the mobilization of low-income voters.  While 63.2 percent of citizens in the lowest income bracket (less than $10,000) are registered, a full 87.1 percent of those in the top bracket ($150,000 or more) are. Research shows that same-day registration decreases the class bias of the electorate, so rollbacks of same day registration will also harm low-income voters.

It’s important to note that the gap between registration and turnout is higher for low-income citizens. A bit more than 16 percent of registered low-income citizens don’t vote, while only 6.9 percent of registered citizens in the top income bracket don’t vote. (See chart) Much of the problem, then, is getting low-income voters  – who are hampered by voter ID laws and reduction in early voting — the the ballot box. It’s unsurprising that an investigation of Republican voter suppression efforts finds that “larger increases in class-biased turnout, indicating higher turnout among lower income voters relative to wealthy voters, is significantly associated with a larger volume of proposed legislative changes.” This finding was confirmed by a study of Indiana’s voting law by Matt A. Barreto, Stephen A. Nuño and Gabriel R. Sanchez.

Where class bias is lower, the poor benefit. Christopher Witko, Nathan Kelly and William Franko studied 30 years of data on turnout inequality and find, “where the poor exercise their voice more in the voting booth relative to higher income groups, inequality is lower.” Their results show that lower turnout inequality leads to significantly more leftist governments and significantly more liberal economic policies. In currently unpublished research, James Avery studied the period between 1980 and 2010 and finds  “unambiguous” evidence that increased turnout bias leads to “greater income inequality several years later.”

This means that the impact of voting goes beyond simply elections.

In the wake of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, long-term Democratic incumbents shifted their voting behavior to respond to the newly mobilized Southern black electorate.Thomas Hansford and Brad Gomez studied more than 50 years of data and find that the “effect of variation in turnout on electoral outcomes appears quite meaningful.” One recent studyfinds that where there is less class bias in turnout, party policy platforms are more favorable to the poor. James Avery and Mark Peffley find that states with low-income voters turned out to vote, politicians were less inclined to pass restrictive eligibility rules for welfare.  Political scientists Kim Hill and Jan Leighley find in two studies that states with a more pronounced class bias, social welfare spending is lower. David Broockman and Christopher Skovron find that legislators tend to overstate the conservative attitudes of their constituents. This could be because their constituents tend to be wealthier. One study of wealthy citizens finds that, “on economic issues wealthy Democratic respondents tended to be more conservative than Democrats in the general population.”

Voting should only be the beginning of political change; it should not be the end. It is, however, necessary. In their study, Hill and Leighley find, “it is the underrepresentation of the poor, rather than the overrepresentation of the wealthy” that explains why states with high turnout inequality have low social welfare spending. The fight to reduce the influence of the wealthy will be a long one, but it begins at the ballot box.

So don’t listen to Russell Brand. Vote.

This article originally appeared on Salon

Voter Suppression in the 2014 Midterm

Political scientist Michael P. McDonald recently released  preliminary turnout rates at the state (and national) level. These data are preliminary and will be continuously updated, but still yield some insights.

Firstly, we can look at the impact of felon disenfrachisement.

Research finds that felon disenfranchisement laws have influenced the outcomes of both presidential and Senate elections. Such laws disenfranchised almost 6 millions voters this year—most of them poor and people of color.

Just look at seven key Senate races and one gubernatorial race (Florida, where Rick Scott tightened felon re-enfranchisement laws in one of his first acts as governor) in the most recent elections. In three of those Senate races and the gubernatorial election, the number of disenfranchised felons was greater than the margin of victory. Not only does felon disenfranchisement contribute to the class and race bias in the electorate by primarilyimpacting low income people and people of color, it often disenfranchises more voters than the margin of victory.

Secondly, we can compare states with voter ID laws to those without.

Obviously, there are many other factors here. The states that tend to pass voter ID laws are a self-selected group. They tend to have more competitive elections and recent increases in turnout among low-income voters and African-Americans.

They are also almost all passed by Republican legislatures, reducing turnout. Recently, the GAO examined voter ID laws and finds that out of ten studies, five had mixed results, four showed a statistically significant drop in voter turnout and one showed an increase in voter turnout. GAO finds that turnout decreased between 1.9 and 2.2 percentage point in Kansas and 2.2 to 3.2 percentage points in Tennessee.

For this year’s midterm, comparing McDonald’s turnout estimates with states with photo ID, non-photo ID and no ID law at all shows that on average, states with a photo ID law had 4.4 percentage points lower turnout than those that did not. States with a non-photo ID law also had lower voter turnout, about 1.52 points lower than states without voter ID. There are numerous factors at work here, but given Silver’s findings, the GAO review and anecdotal evidence at polling stations, it is plausible voter ID depressed turnout.

Given that voter ID laws are generally passed in states with competitive races, we would expect to see higher turnout (election competiveness boosts turnout)—instead we see the opposite. The Brennan Center has collected all of the studies on voter turnout here.

Third, we can examine the impact of same-day registration.

Research suggests that same-day registration reduces the class bias of the electorate. Previous Demos research finds that when same-day registration is available, hundreds of thousands of voters use it. Demos also finds that states with same-day registration consistently have higher levels of turnout than states without it. Numerous studies confirmthat SDR increases turnout.

And this was true in the 2014 midterms. States with SDR had turnout 7.92 points higher than states without SDR. This is likely a combination of factors, including the fact that states committed to turnout generally pass many reforms which work together to boost turnout.

Above all, turnout for the most recent election was dismal: 36.6%. That compares with 40.9% in 2010 and 40.4% in 2006. It’s the lowest of the last five elections. That’s why states should consider same-day registration, early voting, mail-in voting, felon re-enfranchisement and other laws that will get millions of voters to the polls next election.

This post originally appeared on Policyshop

Class Bias in the 2014 Midterms

In my recent Explainer, I discussed the implications of the voting gap on policy and elections. Numerous studies show that in states where low-income voters turnout at a higher rate, inequality is lower. That is because in these chambers, policymakers tend to be more liberal and favorable to policies to decrease economic inequality. Low-income turnout has been linked to higher social spending, more generous state health insurance programs for children, higher minimum wages and strong anti-predatory lending policies. In 2008 the gap between high and low income voters was 32.6 percent, and that this gap increased by 2.3 points to 34.6 in the 2010 midterm election.

While the Census data available later will allow for a more thorough analysis, exit polling can give us an idea about turnout bias.

I used the Wall Street Journal exit data to examine the share of voters earning less than $50,000 (36%), between $50,000 and $100,000 (34%) and more than $100,000 (30%). I compared this with 2013 Census data showing the share of households in each of these groups. The data show that those earning less than $50,000 were strongly under-represented, while those earning more than $100,000 were overrepresented. The differences are strong—enough to have shaped many of the elections on Tuesday.

This is important—numerous studies find that the wealthy are far more opposed to redistribution, government spending and higher minimum wages than the rest of the population. The opinions of wealthy Americans finds that wealthy Democrats tend to be more conservative than other Democrats. Increased turnout among low income voters would change the behavior of both political parties.

There was another important voting gap this year—between whites and people of color. Studies find persistent gaps between non-white and white voters, although African Americans have closed that gap in recent elections. In 2014, people of color were far less likely to turnout to the polls than whites. I again used data from the Wall Street Journal and the Census Bureau. The Census Bureau data from 2012 allow us to examine the racial breakdown of the Voting Eligible population (citizens over 18).

The chart below shows that people of color were underrepresented in turnout for midterms. It is likely that their underrepresentation was even wider than the chart shows, since their share of the voting eligible population has increased since 2012.

These gaps can’t only be chocked up to an enthusiasm gap. There were policies in place explicitly aimed at suppressing low-income voters, young voters and voters of color.

Before the race, many states are currently purged their voter rolls; primarily affect people of color and the poor. Since 2006, 34 states have passed some form of voter ID law. Voter ID laws have a disproportionate impact on the young, people of color and low income voters. Further, these laws are explicitly aimed at reducing low-income turnout. One studyon the motivations of voter ID laws finds that, “larger increases in class-biased turnout, indicating higher turnout among lower income voters relative to wealthy voters, is significantly associated with a larger volume of proposed legislative changes.”

That is, when low income voters turnout at a higher rate, Republicans are more likely to propose voter ID laws. One study finds that the indirect costs of these laws—transportation, lost work time and the cost of acquiring the relevant documents – are higher than poll taxes were at the times they were instituted.

Additionally, states across the country have reduced early and weekend voting, both of which are necessary for low-wage workers who often cannot get off of work to vote (often due to unpredictable schedules). Further, felony disenfranchisement laws, which haveinfluenced the outcome of both presidential and Senate elections will disenfranchise almost 6 millions voters this year—most of them poor and people of color. If these turnout gaps were eliminated it would significantly change policy. State should encourage voting with Same-Day Registration, not discourage it through voting and registration impediments.

This article originally appeared on Policyshop.

Black people, white government

In the wake of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after the Aug. 9 shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson, there has been a focus on racial disparities in representation. A recent study found that while people of color make up 37.2 percent of the U.S. population, they account for only 10 percent of elected officials at the federal, state and county levels. By contrast, white men, who make up 31 percent of the population, account for 65 percent of representatives.

With midterm elections coming up, registration and turnout are increasingly important matters, particularly in cities such as Ferguson that are majority black but are controlled by a majority white political class. The political science literature allows us to discern why some councils in black cities are overwhelmingly white — and why this is a problem.

Proportional representation?

To find out which cities aren’t represented proportionally, Demos, the think tank where I work as a research assistant, turned to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) census, which has demographic data on more than 2,600 cities. To measure descriptive representation, Demos examined councils where the share of the African-American population was large enough that a representative council would have at least one black councilmember. Of those 438 councils, 175 underrepresent their African-American population by at least one councilmember. Of the 95 cities that were half African-American, 42 of them were underrepresented by at least one councilmember. Within this group, 14 cities stood out as being particularly unrepresentative, with only one or no African-Americans on their councils. One such city, with a population that is 63 percent black but a council with only one black member, is Ferguson.

Across the country, 1.2 million African-Americans are underrepresented by their city councils. By contrast, about 500,000 whites live in such communities. One in six African-Americans lacks proportionate council representation. For whites, 1 in 66 do. Approximately 77,000 African-Americans live in communities where they make up more than half the population but hold only one or even no seats on the local council. Since the ICMA is only a sample of cities, there are likely millions more African-Americans across the country who are not represented by their city councils.

Diverse constituencies

In political science, descriptive representation refers to legislators’ having things in common with the groups they represent. It has been linked to confidence in governmentpositive legislative outcomes and engagement with the political process. Political scientist Christian Grose found that black legislators lead to more congressional attention and money for black constituents.

Benefits such as these could have stopped the crisis in Ferguson. A black city council may have raised the alarm about police treatment in a city where blacks make up 93 percent of arrests, 91 percent of searches and 86 percent of stops by the Ferguson police.

Researcher David Canon suggests that descriptive representation can be especially useful in areas with racial tension, where politicians must balance the needs of a diverse constituency. By contrast, policymakers in Ferguson were sharply criticized for their handling of the crisis and the poor performance of the police chief they appointed. As one protester told the council, “You’ve lost your authority to govern this community.” Another noted, “Mike Brown had to die for our voices to be heard.”

Most blacks, in Ferguson and beyond, do not enjoy descriptive representation, because of the municipal electoral process, in which the game is rigged against candidates of color.

Political power

Low turnout in council elections is a key factor in reducing descriptive representation. Municipal elections have far lower voter turnout than national elections. But it’s unlikely that demographic factors are the culprit. Instead, the most likely explanation is that politically motivated parties have kept some elections off cycle to bolster their political power.

“Even if we control for a host of other factors associated with turnout, holding an on-cycle election still increases the turnout of registered voters by an average of 26 to 36 percent above turnout for off-cycle elections,” write political scientists Zoltan Hajnal, Paul G. Lewis and Hugh Louch. Similarly, political scientists Christopher Berry and Jacob Gersen found that when school board elections are timed to state and national elections, voter turnout is about 150 percent higher. Political scientists Thomas Holbrook and Aaron C. Weinshenk focus on campaigns andfound that “the effect of the total amount of campaign spending on turnout is notable.” This is worrying because an overwhelmingly rich and white donor base makes fundraising difficult for candidates of color.

In addition to these demand-side factors, researchers are examining supply-side factors. After all, people can’t vote for candidates of color unless there are people of color on the ballot. Paru Shah of the University of Wisconsin has been doing pioneering research on the subject. She has found when people of color run, they win about half the time. She told me that “compared to their population size, there are fewer minority candidates running” and explained that an important question is whether a candidate of color has won an election among a group voters before, since “once a candidate of color has run and won, there was a tipping point.”

There are also important effects on turnout. Amir Fairdosi and Jon Rogowksi found that a black Democratic candidate on the ballot in a midterm boosts black turnout. (There is not an equivalent boost for a black Republican.) Lawrence Bobo and Franklin Gilliam found that in areas with high levels of black political empowerment, such as having a black mayor, black political participation is higher.

This conclusion has support from other studies, and the political effects of greater minority participation are substantial: A large body of research shows that a shift in the electorate turning out to vote will shift politicians’ voting preferences. When people of color become more involved in the political process, it creates a positive cycle that can bring about beneficial policies.

‘Old boys’ club’

When citizens lack descriptive representation, as most blacks do, they do not trust their representatives. Some 44 percent of Americans surveyed said that “an old boys’ club” is the best description of our representatives, with only 7 percent saying they are “the best and brightest.” That means the next Ferguson is just around the corner: When a crisis happens, unrepresentative local governments will struggle to retain legitimacy. Even without crisis, vital needs of the community will remain unaddressed by a government that seems unresponsive and aloof.

However, the Ferguson protests also showed the power of descriptive representation. Witness the dramatic change of mood when Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, an African-American, was placed in charge of security in Ferguson. Business Insider reported, “In a tactical U-turn, Johnson, and a handful of black officers without body armor, walked among thousands of protesters.”

The first major step toward better representation is tying municipal elections to presidential or midterm elections, like those coming in November. This will ensure that media coverage and major candidates will bring more voters to the polls.

This article originally appeared on Al Jazeera

5 Ways Life in America Would Be Better If Everyone Voted

With Election Day approaching on November 4th, Americans are faced with a perennial question: to vote or not to vote? In the last midterm election, in 2010, only 47 percent of the eligible population voted. Voting patterns typically break down along clear demographic lines: Non-voters tend to be low-income, young and people of color, while those who vote tend to older, whiter and richer than the population at large. Over the last three elections, voter turnout has been consistently 30 points higher among the highest income bracket (those earning more than $150,000 a year) than those in the lowest (those earning less than $10,000). Recent research on the top one percent of the wealth distribution – millionaires – suggests that members of this group turn out to vote at the staggering rate of 99 percent.

For a long time, political scientists believed that this voting gap was immaterial, and that voters were effectively a “carbon copy” of the non-voting population. They argued that this meant that non-voters were still adequately represented in elections. For a long time, this was likely true – but since the late 1980s the class bias in the voting electorate has increased dramatically. At the same, public opinions on economic redistribution, government and regulation have polarized, with the rich rejecting the New Deal consensus in favor of laissez-faire lunacy. This means that our current election system is not representing what Americans really think. Here are five ways that our country would be different if everyone voted:

  1. Higher Minimum Wages

In a recent study, Auburn University’s William Franko compared minimum wages in states with high and low class bias in the electorate. He found that states with a lower disparity between low-income and high-income turnout had policies more favorable to the poor. States with low turnout inequality have a minimum wage policy that is around 20 cents higher than those with high voting inequality. This shouldn’t be surprising: A recent Demos report shows that while 78 percent of the general public support a higher minimum wage, only 43 percent of the wealthy do. The recent $15 minimum wage in Seattle was only possible after a drive to get more low-income and immigrant voters registered.

  1. Lower Income Inequality

In another recent study examining all 50 states over more than three decades, Franko, Nathan J. Kelly and Christopher Witko find that “where the poor exercise their voice more in the voting booth relative to higher income groups, inequality is lower.” They find that states with low turnout bias are more likely to have left-leaning governments that favor liberal economics policies. This finding is particularly important since recent research suggests that income distributions are increasingly decided at the state level.

  1. Better Healthcare

Franko’s research also suggests that states with lower turnout bias are more likely to adopt expansive healthcare programs for low-income children, and they tend to have more simple application processes. This shouldn’t be entirely surprising. In their study of voters and non-voters, Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler find that 51.5 percent of non-voters think that the government should provide health insurance, compared to only 44.3 percent of voters. A 2012 Pew Study found that non-voters were far more likely to support the Affordable Care Act (with 49 percent of likely voters supporting repeal, compared to only 31 percent of non-voters). The study also found that non-voters were far more likely to support Obama (47 percent of likely voters versus 59 percent of non-voters) and oppose Romney (47 percent to 24 percent). It’s no wonder Republicans have based their electoral strategy around disenfranchising voters.

  1. Stronger Laws Against Predatory Lending

Predatory lending policies were an important part of the 2008 financial crisis, and their effect lingers on today: Some 10 million homeowners still owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth. Predatory lending was particularly harmful for communities of color, which were often singled out for bad mortgages. Research shows that states with lower turnout inequality are more likely to adopt strict anti-predatory lending policies. This, again is unsurprising: Recent research suggests that the rich are especially distasteful towards lending regulation, with the wealthiest of the wealthy the most strongly opposed to regulation.

  1. More Generous Public Benefits

One of the strongest differences between voters and non-voters across all studies is that non-voters tend to prefer bigger government programs. In the Pew survey mentioned above, non-voters were significantly more likely to agree with the statement, “Government should do more to solve problems” (52 percent to 29 percent). A recent Public Policy Institute of California study found that only 41 percent of likely voters in that state preferred higher taxes and more services, while 54 percent of unregistered Californians could say the same. Two studies by Kim Hill and Jan Leighley find that states with more class bias in voter turnout have lower social welfare spending. They argue that this difference is primarily explained by low turnout among low-income voters. More recently James Avery and Mark Peffley have found that in states with lower turnout inequality, politicians were less likely to pass stricter welfare rules.

Clearly, increasing voter turnout would dramatically shift the American political landscape. John Galbraith once said, “If everybody in this country voted, the Democrats would be in for the next 100 years.” If anything, Galbraith understated the effects of full turnout. One recent study of wealthy Democrats finds that “on economic issues wealthy Democratic respondents tended to be more conservative than Democrats in the general population.” Research suggests that both Republicans and Democrats overstate the conservativeness of their constituents. Another study finds that states with higher low-income voter turnout have more liberal party policy platforms. Thomas Hansford and Brad Gomez studied more than 50 years of data and found that the “effect of variation in turnout on electoral outcomes appears quite meaningful.” Universal turnout would force both parties to push for policies that benefit youth, low-income voters and people of color. All of this suggests that one of the most radical things you could do next week is vote.

This article originally appeared on Rolling Stone. 

How To Take Back Democracy On November 4th

Bold prediction: Rising inequality of income and wealth will be the most important political battleground over the next few decades.

Just take a look at the figures. The share of income accruing to the top 1 percent increased from 9 percent in 1976 to 20 percent in 2011. The richest 0.1 percent controlled 7 percent of the wealth in 1979 and 22 percent of the wealth in 2012. Meanwhile, there are a number of studies out there showing that the most effective way to reduce this inequality would be higher taxes on income and wealth, but the rich won’t let it happen.

Consider also this: The rise of income inequality and wealth inequality are intimately connected, and causes all sorts of problem over the long term. As Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman write,

Income inequality has a snowballing effect on the wealth distribution: top incomes are being saved at high rates, pushing wealth concentration up; in turn, rising wealth inequality leads to rising capital income concentration,which contributes to further increasing top income and wealth shares.

That is, income is a flow, which quickly becomes a stock. The rich make enough money to save; in contrast middle-class and low-income workers don’t have enough money to live, so they are increasingly burdened by debt. They can’t build up wealth, which means they are deprived of opportunity. This creates a self-perpetuating cycle of wealth on the top and debt on the bottom.

In a comedy bit on wealth, Chris Rock claims, “You can’t get rid of wealth.” The empirical research on the question largely supports his assertion. In “The Son Also Rises,” Gregory Clark finds that wealth remains in a family for 10-to-15 generations and notes,

Groups that seem to persist in low or high status, such as the black and the Jewish populations in the United States, are not exceptions to a general rule of higher intergenerational mobility. They are experiencing the same universal rates of slow intergenerational mobility as the rest of the population.


But, of course wealth and income inequality weren’t always as bad as they are today. What happened? In a word: cheating. Although many people try to explain rising inequality away by arguing we live in a winner-take-all economy or that inequality is the result of skill-biased technological change, these arguments are bunk. Inequality has been driven by public policy choices that favored the richthe decline of unions and the rise of finance. As the chart below shows, tax rates on both income and inheritance were high during the relatively equal ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and then fell dramatically paving the way for the inequality we see today (Chart Source).

The best way to reduce inequality would be to tax income and wealth. While conservatives often claim that this would reduce economic growth, such claims have very little economic support. For instance, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Stefanie Stantcheva find no correlation between economic growth and tax cuts. Because of this, they find, “the top tax rate could potentially be set as high as 83%.” (Chart Source)

Nobel Prize-winner Peter Diamond argues that the top marginal tax rate could safely breach 73 percent, and indeed, such a rate might even be “optimal.” Another recent studyfinds the top marginal tax rate could be as high as 90 percent. Republicans sometimes claim that inequality is necessary for economic growth; in fact, the evidence suggests rather the opposite is true: High levels of inequality imperil growth.

But, here’s the problem: The same political forces that allowed the 1 percent to take our political system hostage have only worsened in the past decade. As Nick Hanauer notes in a recent Intelligence Squared debate,

At the same time, the percent of — of labor — the percent of GDP devoted to labor has gone from 52 to 42.  So that difference is about a trillion dollars annually.  So that — here’s the thing you have to understand.  That trillion dollars isn’t profit because it needs to be or should be or has to be.  It’s profit because powerful people like me and [Edward Conrad] prefer it to be.  That trillion dollars could very easily be spent on wages. Or — or on discounts for consumers.  This isn’t a consequence of some magical law of economics.  This is a consequence of differentials in power.

Nick hits on a very important point: The rising concentration of economic power hascoincided with a concentration of political power. A recent paper by Adam Bonica and others illustrates that as inequality has increased, the rich have spent more money on the political system:


As Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels and Jason Seawright recently found that the wealthy tend to be more economically conservative than the population at large. But a particularly startling finding is that, “on economic issues wealthy Democratic respondents tended to be more conservative than Democrats in the general population.” The wealthy are usingthe political system to turn their income into wealth and then that wealth into more wealth. They’re going to keep doing it, unless we stop them.  One solution is to reduce the massive turnout gap between the rich and poor.

Studies show that states with more low-income turnout have higher minimum wages, more generous child health insurance programs and stricter anti-predatory lending policies. They also have more generous welfare benefits. The fight against inequality will be a long one, but the first step is turning out to vote — the most radical step one can take in our country is actually believing democracy is more than just an idea.

This piece originally appeared on Salon