Category Archives: Race

There’s powerful evidence that racial attitudes drive Tea Party support

This piece was co-written with Jason McDaniel, an assistant professor of political science at San Francisco State University.

The success of Donald Trump and other “outsider” candidates this election cycle picks up on a trend perhaps best pioneered by the Tea Party.

Though the Tea Party has moved back to the margins under the shadow of Trump’s success, it has demonstrated the enduring power of racial resentment in American politics. For decades, social scientists have found that attitudes about race, particularlytoward African Americans, persistently impact political attitudes and opinions toward government services, spending, and welfare.

Trump does not fit the profile of a Tea Party candidate, but he does build on their anti-establishment attitudes and rhetoric surrounding people of color. Trump also recently won the endorsement of Sarah Palin, a Tea Party favorite, and polls that include Tea Partiers show that Trump has consistently been a favorite among the group.

Amid this, we present new and powerful evidence that support for the Tea Party, opposition to government spending, and opposition to aid to the poor are motivated by racial attitudes, not economic anxiety.

How to measure racial resentment and economic peril

 Jason McDaniel

Tea Party support versus racial resentment and economic peril.

We analyzed individual Tea Party support using data from the 2012 American National Election Study, which surveyed the political attitudes and behaviors of more than 5,000 respondents before and after the 2012 presidential election. We created a five-question scale to measure each individual’s level of racial resentment — a subtle form of racism that hinges on the belief that African Americans tend to get “more than they deserve,” that they should “try harder” and should not be granted “special favors,” and disagreement about the level of discrimination faced by blacks.

For economic insecurity, we created a scale from five questions that asked whether each respondent knew anyone who had lost a job, worried about his or her financial situation, and whether he or she would be able to make necessary housing and health care payments. The analysis included statistical controls for a variety of individual characteristics and beliefs that tend to be related to political attitudes, such as race/ethnicity, partisanship, ideology, income, education level, gender, age, and religiosity. The model also included controls for overt racial stereotypes and attitudes toward illegal immigrants.

The graph illustrates a comparison of the effects of racial resentment and economic peril.

As racial resentment increases, there is a sharp increase in support for the Tea Party. At the highest levels of racial resentment, Tea Party support is strong. While economic peril does appear to have a modest effect in increasing support for the Tea Party, the effect is not statistically significant. At the highest levels of economic peril, Tea Party support is in line with national averages, closer to opposition than support. Those like Thomas Frank who want to chalk up the success of the Tea Party to economic anxiety are missing the key variable: race.

It’s worth noting what else the model suggests: Ideological conservatism (based on self-response), more than identifying as a Republican, strongly predicts Tea Party support. Even more important, however, is partisan independence.

It has been shown that partisan independents tend to behave just like strong partisans. Nonetheless, it is those who identify as independents who are most likely to strongly support the Tea Party.

Tea Party support by party identification and ideologyJason McDaniel

Tea Party support by party identification and ideology.

Next we examined attitudes toward government spending, with the same controls. Here we find that black voters are far more likely to support larger government, while independents and Republicans support a smaller government.

Again, we find that racial resentment has significant explanatory power; higher levels of racial resentment are correlated with a preference for decreased government spending and services. Increased economic insecurity does appear to move people toward a preference for increased government spending and services, but the effect is not statistically significant.

According to these results, if we compare the government spending preferences of a person who expresses zero economic peril with those of a person at the highest level of economic peril, we cannot be certain that there is a real difference of opinion between the two.

Government services vs. government spending tradeoffs when layered with economic peril and racial resentment Jason McDaniel

Government services versus government spending trade-offs when layered with economic peril and racial resentment.

What all this tells us about economic anxiety versus racism

These findings suggest that economic peril, or economic anxiety more broadly, are not driving opposition to government and the Tea Party. Instead, these views are rooted in racialized views on who is helped by government programs. Our findings may seem surprising, but they are rooted in a wide literature.

Racism strongly correlates with state-level TANF benefits, even after controlling for state-level revenues and ideology. Political scientists Richard Fording, Sanford Schram, and Joe Soss note in their book Disciplining the Poor, “Concerns over welfare were significantly more likely to be activated among respondents who perceived ‘most blacks’ as lazier than ‘most whites.’”

Political scientist Martin Gilens also finds that “racial considerations are the single most important factor shaping whites’ views of welfare.” He finds that whites hold far more negative stereotypes of black mothers on welfare than white mothers on welfare.

It’s worth noting that the research above examines the effect of racial stereotyping (i.e., “are black people lazier than whites”), which does not have a significant effect after controlling for other factors. This is likely because outright stereotyping has declined and “colorblind” racism has become the main way racism is expressed. By examining measures of resentment, we can see how racism has mutated as a political weapon. These days those who oppose welfare don’t say, “Black people are lazy,” but rather, “Black people need to work harder to be as successful as whites.”

Why might racial resentment be the cause?

Why does race so strongly affect attitudes toward government but not economic peril? It is certainly the case that right-wing politicians have opportunistically exploited race to weaken the welfare state, as legal scholar Ian Haney-López has shown. Attitudes of racial resentment are more prevalent on the right, though they also certainly exist among Democrats.

Mass media is certainly part of the explanation. In another paper, Gilens finds, “Network TV news and weekly newsmagazines portray the poor as substantially more black than is really the case.” He also finds that black people are most frequently shown when discussing the “undeserving” poor, while white people are shown when discussing the working poor.

He notes, “I found that the elderly constitute less than 1 percent of the black poor shown in these magazines (compared with 5 percent of the nonblack poor) and the working poor make up only 12 percent of poor blacks (compared with 27 percent of poor nonblacks).”

American elections enter a dangerous new era: Here’s what you need to know about Voter ID laws in 2016

The 2016 election is the first Presidential election that will occur since the Supreme Court struck down key provisions in the Voting Rights Act. Partially because of the weakened VRA, 10 states passed harsh new voting restrictions that will be in full force for 2016, including seven new voter ID laws. New studies suggest that the motivation of these laws is suppressing non-white voters, and worryingly, that they will be successful at doing so. As I’ve noted before, laws that shift the composition of the electorate have the impact of shifting resources away from low-turnout communities towards higher turnout communities. That makes these laws all the more worrying as 2016 approaches.

Why states pass laws:

A number of earlier studies have already suggested that voter ID laws are motivated by voter suppression. Political scientists Keith Bentele and Erin O’Brien found the laws were, “highly partisan, strategic, and racialized affairs.” Later, Bentele and Ian Vandewalker found that, anti-Black stereotyping is “strongly associated” with the proposal of voter ID laws, though share of the population that are Black and turnout among people of color predict the passage of such laws. In an early study, political scientists Daniel Smith and Seth Mckee found that, “where elections are competitive, the furtherance of restrictive voter ID laws is a means of maintaining Republican support while curtailing Democratic electoral gains.”

In their new study, with political scientist William Hicks, they instead examine what predicts support for voter ID laws among individual legislators. They find, unsurprisingly, that partisan identification is the strongest predictor. However, the also find that, “Democratic lawmakers representing substantial black district populations are more opposed to restrictive voter ID laws, whereas Republican legislators with substantial black district populations are more supportive.” This is powerful evidence that voter suppression is at heart of support for voter ID.

Another strand of studies examine what leads individuals to support voter ID laws. A study by McKee and other scholars finds that, “racial resentment appears to have the strongest impact on attitudes toward strict photo ID laws, and the effect is seen among both Republicans and Democrats.” An earlier study by political scientists David Wilson and Paul Brewer finds that racial resentment increases support for voter ID laws (see chart), as does regular Fox News viewership and believes that fraud is widespread. A more recent study by nearly half a dozen scholars finds that, “racial resentment appears to have the strongest impact on attitudes toward strict photo ID laws, and the effect is seen among both Republicans and Democrats.”


There are also questions of racial bias in implementation. A 2014 study by Ariel White, Noah Nathan and Julie Faller finds that when election officials are queried about voter ID laws, they are more likely to respond to emails from a white sounding name than a Latino sounding one (see chart). A 2008 study of New Mexico finds that Hispanic voters are more likely to be asked to show voter ID at the polls. Data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study show that voters report being asked to show ID in states without voter ID laws, raising further concerns.


Although the study is still in the working paper stage, an important study by Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell and Maya Sen finds that, “those parts of the American South where slavery was more prevalent in the 1860s are today areas with lower average black voter turnout, larger numbers of election lawsuits alleging race-related constitutional violations, and more racial polarization in terms of party identification.” Their work suggests that slavery created “incentives to to reinforce existing racist norms and institutions to maintain control over the newly free African-American population” which persist to this day. Given that the right to vote is still very contested, and the huge stakes of 2016, the impact of these laws is all the more important.

The impact of voter ID on turnout:

One of the most fiercely debated questions about voter ID is the impact it has on turnout. After studying the impacts of laws in Kansas and Tennessee, GAO finds that voter ID laws reduce turnout, though their literature review suggests the results of other studies were mixed. However, most of the previous studies were performed using data from before 2006, meaning that they were mostly examining the earlier, less stringent voter ID laws. In addition, because they used Census Bureau data, they were limited in the scope of analysis they could perform about the racial and partisan effects of voter ID. But a study currently under review by Zoltan Hajnal, Nazita Lajevardi and Lindsay Nielson shows that voter ID laws increase racial gaps in turnout, and skew turnout toward the political right (the chart come from a newer version paper provided to me by Hajnal). They find that the impacts are largest when the voter ID laws are strict, and that impacts tend to be larger in primaries.


A recent survey of Texan non-voters living in a swing district finds that the voter ID law kept eligible voters away from the polls, and disproportionately benefitted the Republican candidate. There are good reasons to believe that ID laws would skew turnout, because research indicates people of color, young people and low-income people are less likely to have necessary identification.


These studies are key in that they make a very persuasive case that voter ID laws are exactly the type of racially-biased shenanigans that the Voting Rights Act was meant to prevent. As I’ve argued, politicians should actually be pushing for policies that make it easier, not harder to vote. The evidence is strong that AVR would be the most consequential voting rights reform in decades. Recently, I wrote about a 1976 political science dissertation that strengthens the case. It turns out that when registration laws were first being implemented, in many cases the burden of compiling lists fell on town and county officials, rather than on potential voters. It counties where officials compiled lists, turnout was higher than in counties where individuals had to register themselves.


This, combined with all of the evidence that registration is a key barrier to political participation and that policies that ease the burden of registration boost turnout, suggests automatic voter registration could dramatically change our nation’s political system. Demos recently released a report showing that automatic voter registration could bring at least 27 million new voters into the system (I worked on the numbers). Already in Oregon, the new Automatic Voter Registration system is having a big impact. NPR reports that, “More than 4,000 new voters were registered in the first six days — compared to an average 2,000 new registrations each month under the old system.” In addition, it is becoming increasingly clear that the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, which was re-authorized by overwhelming majorities in Congress is necessary. Ginsburg was indeed correct: the Court threw out the umbrella, and we now face a torrent of voter ID laws.

This piece originally appeared on Salon. 

Race and gender matter for representation

Much of the commentary on the policies of the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential contenders ignores how race, class and gender interact with political representation. The reality is that low-income constituents, women and people of color are not getting their fair share from the U.S. government. A new study by University of California researcher Zoltan L. Hajnal, currently under review by co-authors John Griffin, Brian Newman, and David Searle, examines the effects of class, race and gender on representation.

Their findings are stunning: For white people, class works as expected, with richer whites getting better representation than poorer whites. But, for black people, there is no class effect and high-income black households receive slightly less political representation than low-income black families. The authors also found that black women’s voices “are likely to overlooked” in policy decisions more than any other minority group.

For years, studies on representation focused primarily on class, education and political knowledge. In 2004 a task force commissioned by the American Political Science Association’s cautioned that (PDF) the United States’ “ideals of equal citizenship and responsive government may be under growing threat in an era of persistence and rising inequalities.” This prompted academics to dive deeper into the question of how race affects political influence and representation.

In their seminal 2009 book, “Minority Report,” political scientists Brian Newman and John Griffin found that black people and Hispanics had less representation than whites. More recently, legal scholar Nicholas Stephanopoulosanalyzed data from state exit polls and legislative outcomes over three decades and found that women, poor people and minorities had very little representation.

Hajnal and his co-authors use more than 40 years of data on preferences of individual voters for spending in 11 key federal policies, including foreign aid, crime and healthcare, to measure government responsiveness. The authors then examine government spending on those issues to see whether the government enacted the policy preferences of minorities and low-income individuals or not. (The authors treated those whose government spending preferences were enacted as winners and those whose preferences were ignored as policy losers.)

All groups enjoyed gains ranging from 30 to 40 percent based on spending preferences vis-à-vis spending outcomes. But the authors found a significant gap in representation across racial groups: Black people were policy winners 31.9 percent of the time, compared with 37.6 percent for white people. Asians enjoyed more representation than blacks and whites, Hispanics slightly less so. (The General Social Survey on Hispanics and Asian Americans is limited to a period of 10 years and thus not entirely comparable.) As the table below illustrates, there’s a 5.7 percentage point difference between blacks and whites, a 1.5-point difference between high-and low-income earners and 4.1 percentage difference based on educational status.

change in probablity of policy winner

The researchers also found a modest gap in representation based on class. (Unlike some other research, they don’t find a gender gap.) The chart below shows the percentage point differences in being a policy winner based on racial differences and levels of income. Put simply, it’s better to be poor and white than rich and black in the United States.

being a policy winner

The authors attribute the disparity in political representation and influence partly to the fact that white people and the wealthy favor the Republican Party, while black people and low-income voters prefer Democrats. All other things equal, Hajnal and his co-authors argue that Republicans are 6.3 percent more likely to win than Democrats. But this doesn’t fully explain the representation gap. Others have offered group size, African-Americans’ spending habits and their preference for the minority position, which has lower levels of support, to explain this gap. Yet none of this can explain the lack of their representation in U.S. government.

“Other racial and ethnic minorities (namely Asians), the poor, the young, the unemployed, Jews, and Catholics all get roughly equal influence or in some cases more influence than their numbers would suggest,” the researcherswrote in one of the dispiriting conclusions from the study. “Only Black voices are differentially ignored.” Unsurprisingly, they also noted that the richest one percent of Americans shape public policy. Despite black people’s near-total lack of representation, the winning rate differences are narrowed slightly more on welfare, healthcare and crime, areas with high levels of salience. This suggests that African-Americans have stronger (though not equal) rates of representation in areas most important to them.

There is persuasive evidence that the U.S. political system is not living up to our democratic ideals.

On many key policy issues there are deep divides between whites and people of color (in some cases even larger than the gaps between high and low-income people). For instance, while 53 percent of whites say the government should pursue policies to reduce the wealth gap, 67 percent of people of color agree.

reducing wealth gap

Similarly, when asked whether the government should spend money to create jobs or reduce the deficit, 50 percent of whites say reduce the deficit (compared with 42 percent for job creation); while 65 percent of people of color say spend money to create jobs (with 29 percent favoring deficit reduction).

creating jobs

Hajnal and his co-authors found that economic growth boosts political representation for everyone, with the strongest effect for African-Americans. However, this too doesn’t quite explain the evident racial bias aimed at reducing black people’s political participation. Moreover, campaign donors are overwhelmingly white and there are few successful politicians of color (particularly women of color), which exacerbates the unequal representation.

While this is the first study of its kind, I hope it inspires more research on the intersectionality of race, gender and income levels in representation. Other research suggests that voter turnout gaps between the healthy and unhealthy also bias policies.

In sum, there is persuasive evidence that the U.S. political system is not living up to our democratic ideals. We need reforms to ensure equal political representation for all Americans. Among other things, a reform agenda should include automatic voter registration and non-partisan get-out-the-vote campaigns to boost turnout among non-voting populations. We must also end the practice of disenfranchising felons. Finally, to fight the influence of money in politics, we need robust public financing.

Political scientists have long understood that the American democracy had an upper-class accent — now we know it’s overwhelmingly white as well.

This piece originally appeared on Al Jazeera America. 

Racism undermines support for government spending

Racism divides the American political system, strengthening opposition to social programs and reinforcing a plutocratic agenda. This is the lesson to draw from new YouGov data, which reveals that most Americans wrongly believe African-Americans make up a majority of welfare recipients and are net “takers.”

The survey, an Internet-based poll with a sample of 1,000 respondents, was performed between Jan. 23 and 25. I requested that YouGov researchers ask respondents questions about how they perceive government benefits across race and class lines, in order to examine how racial prejudice affects these views.

As political scientist Jason McDaniel and I have shown, racial resentment strongly predicts opposition to government aid to the poor and support for the Tea Party. Extensive political science research shows that racial animus strengthens anti-welfare views and motivates right-wing movements like the Tea Party.

Politicians and journalists fuel these racist narratives. President Ronald Reagan’s famous denunciations of “welfare queens” and a “strapping young buck” buying steak with food stamps offer quintessential examples of the former. As for the latter, political scientist Martin Gilens finds that “network TV news and weekly newsmagazines portray the poor as substantially more black than is really the case.” In fact, “the elderly constitute less than 1 percent of the black poor shown in these magazines (compared with 5 percent of the nonblack poor) and the working poor make up only 12 percent of poor blacks (compared with 27 percent of poor non-blacks).”

According to the YouGov survey, 41 percent of all respondents say the government does “a lot” to help black people, but this disguises deep partisan and racial divides. For instance, 48 percent of white respondents say “a lot” compared to 6 percent of black respondents. Similarly, 23 percent of Democrats say “a lot” compared with a whopping 66 percent of Republicans.

On the other hand, only 27 percent of respondents say the government does “a lot” to help white people. Among white respondents, 16 percent said “a lot,” and 30 percent said government does “nothing.” Among black respondents, 68 percent said “a lot and 8 percent said “nothing.” And among Democrats, 43 percent said that the government helps whites “a lot,” compared with 17 percent of Republicans.


When asked what racial group made up the majority of welfare recipients, 26 percent of all respondents correctly said “whites,” 34 percent said blacks, 13 percent said Hispanics and the rest were unsure. Again, however, these divides break down along racial and partisan lines, with 36 percent of white respondents incorrectly saying black people make up the majority of welfare recipients, compared with 32 percent of Hispanic respondents and 23 percent of black respondents. Among Democrats, 25 percent said blacks make up the majority of welfare recipients, compared with 45 percent of Republicans.


These popular notions are at odds with reality. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, more than 40 percent of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients are non-Hispanic whites, while a quarter are African-American. A Center for Budget and Policy Priorities study that examines the full range of government benefits found that “Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 64 percent of the population in 2010 and received 69 percent of the entitlement benefits.” They also found that African-Americans make up 12 percent of the population but receive 14 percent of benefits. These numbers are even more disturbing given that whites make up only 42 percent of the poor while African-Americans make up 22 percent of the poor.

The YouGov survey also had a unique set of questions that examine the “makers and takers” narrative that dominated the 2012 presidential campaign, after Republican candidate Mitt Romney was secretly recorded telling an audience:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.

He was referring specifically to the 47 percent of Americans who supposedly don’t pay taxes, though that statistic is muddled by payroll taxes, state and local taxes and consumption and sin taxes. Republican supporters of Romney doubled-down on these comments by drawing a sharp moral divide between the “makers” and “takers” in U.S. society. However, the comments also serve as a subtle racial provocation to white conservatives, many of whom believe that these “takers” are all people of color. More blatant examples are former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s famous “food stamp president” comment, and former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum’s claim that government spending goes to “blah people.”

These narratives appear to be deeply ingrained among white Americans, particularly among conservatives. In the YouGov survey, respondents were asked to say, “For the following groups of people indicated whether you think they tend to give more to society than they take or take more than they give.” On net, respondents said that working-class people (+62), middle-class people (+54) and women (+46) were givers. In the middle were white people (+18) and men (+13). The groups who were categorized as “takers” included Hispanic people (-4), black people (-25) and upper-class people (-31). Among whites, however there was a massive ideological gap on the question of whether black people were viewed as net contributors or net takers, with liberal whites saying black people were net contributors (+18), while moderate whites (-38) and conservative whites (-62) overwhelmingly said black people are net takers.


The data suggest that the makers and takers narrative likely isn’t about class, but about race. Among Republicans, black people are overwhelmingly considered “takers” (-53), while the working class is overwhelmingly seen as contributors (+56). It’s unlikely, then, that when a GOP politician says “takers” or refers disparagingly to those on welfare, he is trying to conjure up an image of a white construction worker who can’t pay taxes, as opposed to an unemployed black single mother.

The study makes it clear that American politics is still deeply driven by race. As Demos President Heather McGhee and scholar Ian Haney Lopez write, “In the post-war era, racism helped create the white middle class. Since the Reagan era, racism has helped destroy it.” They warn that progressives who worry about the weakness of the safety net often fail to appreciate that “racism has been the plutocrats’ scythe, cutting down social solidarity to harvest obscene wealth and power.” It’s clear that distorted views about who’s really benefiting from government spending remain widespread. For progressives to be successful, they need to fight these racist myths.

This piece originally appeared on Al Jazeera America. 

Young whites view race with rose-tinted glasses

This piece was co-written by Jesse Rhodes, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. 

The United States Supreme Court’s decision to review the constitutionality of the University of Texas at Austin’s affirmative action program has brought renewed debate about the practice. While social science largely supportsthe proposition that affirmative action is beneficial to African-American and Latino applicants, many Americans feel that policies to remedy racial inequality  or to ensure diversity are unnecessary. In 2003, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor famously put an expiration date on racism, expressing a hope that 25 years from then, affirmative action would no longer be necessary.

What do Americans think? Affirmative action sharply divides Americans, largely along racial lines, even among millennials, the most racially diverse generational cohort. Even among young Democrats, white and nonwhite people have very different attitudes about the fairness and appropriateness of affirmative action policies.

Using data from the 2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a large-scale national survey, we are able to examine preferences about affirmative action among young people, who are most affected by affirmative action in education. The survey asked respondents, “Affirmative action programs give preference to racial minorities in employment and admissions in order to correct for past discrimination. Do you support or oppose affirmative action?” They were able to choose four options: strongly oppose, somewhat oppose, somewhat support and strongly support.

Across the full sample, affirmative action was quite unpopular, with 62 percent saying they either somewhat or strongly opposed it. Among young people (ages 17 to 34), opposition was somewhat less strong, with 54 percent opposed. Notably, while 17 percent of young people strongly support affirmative action (compared with 14 percent of the general population), 28 percent strongly oppose it (versus 37 percent of general population).

However, given the stakes in the UT-Austin case, the differences among age groups are less interesting than the deep racial divide among millennials. A full 66 percent of white millennials said they oppose affirmative action, including 36 percent who “strongly oppose,” and only 9 percent said they “strongly support” it. Among millennials of color, the reverse was true, with 67 percent supporting affirmative action, 32 percent strongly. Among black millennials, support for affirmative action was overwhelming: 75 percent said they favor affirmative action, with 41 percent saying their support is “strong.” Among Latino and Asian millennials, support was more muted, with 64 percent of Latinos and 56 percent of Asians in support.


Party affiliation may be an important factor here as well, as millennials of color are more likely to support Democrats than are white millennials. However, even among young Democrats, there are wide racial divisions. While a bit more than half of young white Democrats (53 percent) said they support affirmative action, there was supermajority support among young Democrats of color, with 80 percent of young black Democrats, 70 percent of young Latino Democrats and 68 percent of young Asian Democrats supporting the policy.

Overall, 76 percent of young Democrats of color said they support affirmative action, and a mere 9 percent said they strongly oppose it. In contrast, more young white Democrats said they strongly oppose affirmative action (19 percent) than strongly support it (16 percent). Strong support for affirmative action among young white Democrats was only slightly more than one-third of strong support among young black Democrats (45 percent) and less than half of strong support among young Democratic people of color (38 percent). This is consistent with other work suggesting young white people, even Democrats, aren’t particularly liberal on racial issues,  especially regarding policies that are perceived as affecting white interests directly.


One of the most persistent myths about race in America is that the color line will gradually fade out with the oldest generation. Unfortunately, the data suggest this is not true. In fact, research suggests millennials, particularly white ones, tend to view racism with rose-tinted glasses.

To examine broader preferences about government action, we turn to 2012 American National Election Studies data, and similar results emerge. Researchers asked respondents to place themselves on a scale from 1 to 7, with 1 being “Government should help blacks” and 7 being “Blacks should help themselves.” As the chart shows, there are only small differences across age groups but large differences among racial groups — belying the notion that young white people are more racially progressive than their parents. Young liberal white people are more conservative than black people, by a rather dramatic margin.


These data all suggest that, rather than seeing racism as a persistent problem still in need of remedy, many young white people — including those who identify as Democrats — are inclined to believe America is a colorblind society and that little remains to be done to remedy past racial injustices. As psychologists Sarah Gaither, Leigh S. Wilton and Danielle M. Young note in a recent study, “Both white and black voters perceived the election of [Barack] Obama in 2012 to be a sign of increased racial progress while simultaneously serving as a signal for a reduced need for programs designed to address racial inequalities.”

Given the deep conservatism of the Supreme Court and the reality, demonstrated by political science and journalistic observation, that court decisions are decided by ideology and modestly constrained by public opinion, affirmative action may be in trouble.

This piece originally appeared on Al Jazeera America. 

Racial attitudes still divide the two major parties

Barack Obama’s presidency has been marked by heated debates about the Republican Party’s racial attitudes. Many liberals have noted the dog whistles —subtle cues that play on stereotypes and may trigger taboo sentiments — employed in Republican attacks on the president. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for instance, famously called Obama a “food stamp president,” former Sen. Rick Santorum accused him of giving welfare to “blah people,” and many conservatives have claimed Obama couldn’t have been born in the United States.

For the most part, the public abhors and condemns such blatant racism. But recent data on public sentiments suggest that many Americans hold beliefs affirming subtler, structural racism and that the popularity of these believes divides sharply along party and political lines.

I began my examination of whether there is a partisan divide on racial issues with the American National Election Studies 2012 survey. The first set of questions I examined measures racial stereotyping, asking respondents whether they believe that black people are “hard-working” or “lazy,” “intelligent” or “unintelligent” and whether they have “too much influence” or “too little influence” in politics — in other words, questions measuring explicitly racist attitudes.

The second set of questions I examined measures what scholars call racial resentment. These questions measure perceptions of the persistence of racial inequality and discrimination by asking respondents whether they agree or disagree with these statements:

• Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.
• Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.
• Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.
• It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites.

I also looked at responses to the question “How much discrimination do black people face?”,as well as whether respondents support government assistance to African-Americans, including employment protections.

This second group of questions examines issues related to colorblind racism. As sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva writes in “Racism Without Racists,” colorblind racism is “racism lite,” in which “instead of proclaiming God placed minorities in the world in a servile position, it suggests they are behind because they do not work hard enough.”

Among non-Hispanic whites, there are strong and persistent gaps between Republicans and Democrats, with at least 22-point gaps in opinion on each issue I examined. The deepest divide is on whether blacks should work their way up, as Irish- and Italian-Americans supposedly did, which divided members of the two parties by 30 points.


On racial stereotyping, the gaps are smaller, with only an 8-point gap in the share saying black people are unintelligent, but an 18-point gap in the share saying they are “lazy.” While only 7 percent of Democrats believe that blacks have too much influence over politics, 25 percent of Republicans do. With regard to the government’s role in ameliorating racial inequality, the split was even larger, with 35-point gaps on whether the government should help blacks or blacks should help themselves, and on whether or not it is the government’s job to ensure fair treatment in the workplace.


Examining self-identified conservatives and liberals gives similar results, with gaps of 26 to 38 percentage points on issues related to colorblind racism, gaps averaging 17 points on the stereotyping questions and gaps averaging 40 points on questions about government aid.


In a piece last year, journalists Nate Silver and Allison McCann investigated whether white Republicans were more racist than white Democrats. They focused on questions that examine racial stereotyping, such as whether blacks are lazier or less intelligent than whites and whether a white person would feel comfortable with a close family member marrying a black person. On many of these questions, partisan gaps have disappeared. However, on the question of whether blacks “lack the motivation to pull themselves out of poverty,” the partisan gap is large: In the 2012 survey, 57 percent of white Republicans and 41 percent of white Democrats agreed.

Silver and McCann concluded that “there’s a partisan gap, although not as large of one as some political commentators might assert. There are white racists in both parties. By most questions, they represent a minority of white voters in both parties.” However, assuming Bonilla-Silva is correct that institutional racism is the primary problem today, the questions Silver and McCann used didn’t adequately address the real partisan gaps on race.

My analysis suggests that focusing on stereotyping and other explicitly racist attitudes rather than structural racism obscures much of the differences between how Republicans and Democrats think about race. The two parties are significantly divided on whether entrenched barriers still hamper upward mobility for blacks and whether government should intervene.

That said, we cannot be sanguine about how explicit racial stereotyping influences conservative politics. Those who claim, as economist Alex Tabarrok did before the 2012 election, that “it is undeniable that some Americans are racist but racists split about evenly across the parties” are mistaken. In reality, while 23 percent of Democrats say black people are lazy, 41 percent of Republicans do. And among strong Democrats and strong Republicans, the numbers become even more stark, 20 percent compared with 46 percent. Furthermore, 41 percent of whites who say they are extremely conservative believe black people are lazy, compared with 14 percent of whites who say they are extremely liberal. On the question of whether black people are unintelligent, it’s 30 percent for extremely conservative whites versus 11 percent for extremely liberal whites. This clearly suggests that racial animus is more prevalent among conservatives and Republicans.

It also accounts for why debates about race in America are subject to such deep partisan conflict. Since the civil rights movement, Americans have broadly rejected explicit expressions of racism. On the question of black intelligence, the gaps are smallest between the two parties, suggesting that views of inherent black inferiority are rejected across the political spectrum — or are simply too taboo to admit. But on issues of discrimination, the persistence of racism and the importance of history, the parties are sharply divided.

Law professor Ian Haney Lopez argued, “We have to get away from this idea that there is one sort of racism and it wears a Klan hood. Of course, that is an egregious form of racism, but there are many other forms of racism. There are racisms.” He noted that these other forms of racism “are easily used to manipulate broad swaths of the American electorate.”

In 2005, Republicans apologized for the post-1968 Southern strategy of targeting white voters with thinly veiled racial appeals. But a decade later, as the rise of Donald Trump illustrates, they haven’t stopped using it.

This piece originally appeared on Al Jazeera America. 

The Medicaid expansion is a question of politics, not economics

Conservative opposition to the Medicaid expansion is killing Americans and costing states money.

Carter Price, a mathematician at RAND Corp. found in a study of Pennsylvania that expanding Medicaid would add $3 billion to state GDP and support 35,000 jobs. In an early study (from 2013) with Christine Eibner, a senior economist at Rand, examining the 14 states that had at that time refused to expand Medicaid, Price and Eibner find that, “we project that fully expanding Medicaid eligibility could reduce mortality by 90,000 lives per year. The mortality reduction would be only 71,000 lives per year if fourteen states opted out of the expansion.” Research by Samuel Dickman andcolleagues at Harvard and CUNY suggests that the failure to expand Medicaid will lead to 7,115 to 17,104 deaths, 712,037 additional people suffering from depression and 240,700 people with catastrophic medical bills. A recent Urban Institute study finds that “Six states would see their uninsured populations reduced by about 40 percent or more if they implemented the Medicaid expansion.” Full expansion would lead to 4.3 million people getting insurance and dramatic reductions in uncompensated care (between $5 billion and $10 billion).

The recent election of Matt Bevin in Kentucky puts one of the most successful Medicaid expansions in peril. Two new studies suggest worrying realities about what caused states to expand Medicaid: that race may play a key factor, and that right-wing activists have significantly hampered reform.

Politics, Not Economics

A vast political science of the Medicaid expansion suggests that politics, not a state’s need, determines whether it takes advantage of the opportunity to expand Medicaid in accordance with the Affordable Care Act.

A study by Charles Barrilleaux and Carlisle Rainey finds that neither the percent of people uninsured nor the percentage of population supporting the expansion had a statistically meaningful impact on a governor’s decision to expand Medicaid. Rather the strongest variables were whether Republicans controlled the statehouse, Obama’s share of the vote in 2012, and the governor’s party allegiance. Other research confirms that political considerations were more important than economic ones.

Political scientist Elizabeth Rigby finds:

“No evidence was found that state resistance was related to economic factors, including overall state resources, the level of fiscal stress, or the new costs states would incur as result of reform.”

In an early study of the Medicaid expansion, political scientists Timothy Callaghan and Lawrence Jacobs find that administrative capacity also strongly predicted adoption of the Medicaid expansion. This is partially because Democratic governments have stronger administrative capacity in general — Republicans tend to weaken the state from the inside. There is also some path dependence at play: States that had increased generosity of programs in the past were more likely to accept the expansion, even those under Republican control. Jacobs and Callaghan also find that richer states were more likely to accept the expansion (which is disappointing, since the poorer states have residents in more dire need of the expansion). The evidence strongly suggests that politics, not economic factors or the rate of the uninsured, determined whether a state would expand Medicaid.


But what political factors were decisive? New research sheds light on the subject.

Study 1: Race, public opinion and Medicaid

A new paper currently under review by University of Chicago professor Colleen Grogan and Ph.D. student Sung-geun Ethan Park finds that racial animus may have played a role in whether a state expanded Medicaid. Grogan and Park find, optimistically, that public support for the Medicaid expansion partially predicts whether Medicaid is expanded. (In 33 states, the government acted in accord with majority will.) They find a stronger role for public will than Barrilleaux and Rainey because they examine support for the Medicaid expansion, rather than the ACA as a whole. However, Grogan and Park find that a key determinant of whether a state ignored the majority’s opinion was the size of the black population in the state. Even with several controls (including party control and strength of competing interest groups) they find:

“the odds of a state adopting the Medicaid expansion in a state with a high proportion of Blacks is significantly lower compared to a state with a low proportion of Blacks all else equal.”

This confirms the hypothesis of many pundits who have noted that the expansion of Medicaid hasn’t occurred in many states with large uninsured black populations who otherwise would have benefited immensely from the law. As I’ve noted elsewhere, there is an incredibly large literature suggesting that policymakers are less responsive to constituents of color than their white constituents.

Study 2: The Koch brothers go to the statehouse

Another new study from Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Theda Skocpol and Daniel Lynch examines how interest group lobbying affected passage. They find that:

“GOP-leaning or dominated states have been most likely to embrace the expansion when organized business support outweighs counterpressures from conservative networks.”

Hertel-Fernandez, Skocpol and Lynch find a major divide in conservative organizations, with more mainstream business organizations often supporting the Medicaid Expansion. They cite a lobbyist who tells them that the Chamber of Commerce was almost “leading the charge” for the Medicaid expansion, out of fear that the state would leave money on the table.

On the other hand, strongly ideological groups, like Americans for Prosperity (a Koch group) and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and the State Policy Network (an association of far-right policy organizations) universally opposed the Medicaid expansion. What they find is that where the business organizations were stronger, the Medicaid expansion would pass, even in a Republican-dominated state (Michigan). On the other hand, in many cases the more ideologically extreme activists dominated, like in Virginia, which despite having a Democratic governor, did not expand Medicaid because of strong opposition from Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (even though the expansion would have benefited the state immensely).

After years of researching the Koch organizations for a similar research project, Hertel-Fernandez and Skocpol find that they now rival the Republican Party in spending power (see chart). Skocpol writes that, “the Koch network parallels, rivals, and leverages the Republican Party itself, both nationally and in most states.” As the chart below shows, the national GOP committees are now far weaker than they were in the past, while extra-party organizations, particularly those funded by the Kochs, are far better funded.


The result is that in the 2016 election, the Koch network may well spend more than the GOP to influence the election. This helps us understand national politics (for instance the rise of Paul Ryan over John Boehner) but the results are even more disturbing at the state level. The power of the Kochs has led more and more Republican governors to ignore the desires of their constituents in order to serve the Koch agenda. As the Kochs grow even more powerful, it will be difficult for even the very conservative, yet pragmatic politicians to be able to govern (like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, for instance).

Obamacare was designed around the premise that business conservatives would accept the expansion because it was good for business and that Republican governors would act pragmatically. But business conservatives don’t always rule in the Republican Party, and in states where they don’t, governors have sacrificed the health of their citizens and their budgets in pursuit of ideological ends. Future political battles will surely have even higher stakes, as what remains of the tattered safety net in numerous red states is further ravaged by an increasingly extreme right-wing network.

The battle over Medicaid, then, has important lessons for the future. First, we must recognize an asymmetry in American politics. While the Kochs now work both within the Republican Party and outside of it, progressives largely don’t match that trend. That’s because half of the left thinks the Democratic Party is little different from the Republican Party and not worth the time, and the other half thinks any challenge to the Democratic Party is tantamount to treason. But these aren’t helpful ways of thinking about politics.

As I’ve noted before, progressives need to learn from the Kochs and think about how to pull the Democratic Party toward their aims. David Koch initially ran as a libertarian, but then realized that was a silly idea, at least in the American context. Since then, he and his brother have created a powerful non-party infrastructure. Such an infrastructure simply doesn’t exist on the progressive side (and not for lack of trying). This is partially because mainstream Democrats aren’t interested in the fractious debates that occupy the right. But the alternative to the fractured debates is the reality that currently face the left: Without a state and local infrastructure independent of the Democratic Party, they simply can’t mobilize the way the right can.

Second, this research shows that racism may be playing a role in state failing to expand Medicaid. As I’ve shown, there’s evidence that racism affects other important policies, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). At a minimum, Republican governors are prone to ignore the policy preferences of their Bblack constituents.

The final lesson is that progressives can influence change — when they mobilize — and that change can profoundly impact people. It’s all the more disturbing, then, that in their research, Hertel-Fernandez and Skocpol find that:

“the right has treated state-level decisions about building exchanges and Medicaid expansion as major political fights. But the left in general has not recognized that pressing for full health reform implementation in all states presents a huge political opportunity to strengthen citizen faith in government and to further economic and racial equality… Strikingly, SiX itself has not made it a top priority to fight for expanded Medicaid in the 20 holdout states, even though these struggles happening right now.”

The fact that these battles could be won makes this all the more shameful. The Medicaid expansion battle is one of the most glaring signs of both the possibility of progressive reform and the grave consequences for failing to enact it.

This piece originally appeared on Salon. 

The unbearable whiteness of money in politics

The 2016 presidential election will be the second since the court’s disastrous Citizens United decision and the first without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act in place. That means big donors will have more sway over elected officials to dictate the agenda.

Already the wealthy are pouring money into the election: Politico reports that the 67 biggest donors, who have each given a million dollars or more have donated three times more than 508,000 small donors combined. A new report from Every Voice Center finds that individuals living in 1 percent of the nation’s zip codes (equal to 4 percent of the population) are responsible for half of the $74 million the 10 candidates who have raised the most so far. Every Voice reports that just three rich, and heavily white neighborhoods gave more to politicians than 1,248 majority African-American districts. But what do donors want?

Spencer Piston, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University, examined 2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Studies (CCES) data for Salon, and finds that “donors are more likely than non-donors to oppose the downward redistribution of wealth.” He finds that the mean income for donors is $74,999, but for non-donors in the sample, the mean income is $54,999. He finds that while 20 percent of non-donors in the sample consider themselves poor, only 7 percent of donors do.

There were gaps on class issues as well: with non-donors more likely to say the poor pay too much in taxes, and donors more likely to say the rich pay more than they should. While 46 percent of donors strongly agree that lawsuits are interfering with free enterprise, only 28 percent of non-donors strongly agree. Finally, 46 percent of donors say their first priority with respect to the budget is to cut domestic spending, compared with 36 percent of non-donors.


Obviously, these data are examining the smaller donor pool; the policy preferences and views of the wealthiest mega-donors are incredibly hard to discover. But they offer a key benefit over much of the other research on the effect of campaign contributions. Data that examine campaign contributions tend to focus solely on a broad left-right axis that combines economic and social issues. This makes it far more difficult to discern the influence of the wealthy specifically on class related issues. Research suggests that the richest Americans are rather liberal on social issues, but far more conservative on economic issues, but this nuance is lost on a one dimensional scale.

What about the race bias of the donor pool? Previously, I’ve discussed the work of Page, Bartels and Seawright, showing that the wealthiest Americans are far more likely to oppose government action to remedy inequality than the least wealthy (see chart). Their sample is nearly all (96 percent) white, and comprises 68 percent donors, suggesting that the views Piston finds at the lower levels of the donor rung are true at the highest levels as well, if not even more pronounced.


The rise of big donor plutocracy is especially disturbing given the rising evidence that African-Americans and Latinos have little influence over policy. A recent working paper suggests that African-Americans, and in particularly Black women, enjoy far less policy representation than whites. They even find that the Black/white representation gap might be bigger than the class gap. Another recent paper by Nicholas Stephanopoulos that used Martin Gilens’s massive database of public policy and opinions as well as state level exit polling found that women, people of color and low-income people have their preferences ignored by politicians. While it’s difficult to know what exactly is driving the differences, the authors of the above mentioned working paper suggest that partisanship, voter turnout and the strength of the views cannot fully explain the Black/white representation gap.


It’s clear that to truly be a democracy, the United States needs to reckon with money in politics. We need policies to create an inclusive democracy. That means requiringfull disclosure of all political spending, curbing the influence of lobbyists and eventually overturning the disastrous Supreme Court precedents regarding campaign finance. But simply reducing the influence of the wealthy isn’t enough. We need to empower ordinary citizens. That means fostering small donor democracy through public financing, which a 2012 study suggests could increase the diversity of the donor pool. A recent Demos report finds that at the lower levels, the donor pool is more diverse than at higher levels. Finally, we need to reduce turnout inequality, which further exacerbates class biases in political contributions. Automatic voter registration and non-partisan get out the vote operations and a re-invigorated Voting Rights Act can all work to ensure inclusive democracy.

This article originally appeared on Salon

Mass incarceration is destroying democracy

In 2014, voter turnout hit new lows for a midterm election: The most recent census data suggest turnout was a measly 41.9 percent. It’s likely that turnout was even lower, since the census data, while the best we have, is slightly inflated by the fact that people overreport socially positive behaviors like voting. Data that directly examines the number of votes counted suggest that turnout was around 36.6 percent of the voting-eligible population. But, while census data aren’t perfect, they allow us to examine turnout among different demographic groups (though even here, there are flaws). Looking at the data, I find a pretty stunning gender gap among one racial group: Black men are far less likely to vote than black women, and this is likely the legacy of mass incarceration.

The numbers are stark. In 2014, turnout among non-Hispanic white men was 45 percent, but among black men it was 36 percent (among Asian men it was 26 percent and among Latinos 25 percent). While the male/female turnout gap was 2 points on average, it was 1 point among non-Hispanic whites, 3.5 points among Latinos and 1.7 points among Asians. Among blacks, the gap was 7.7 points.

Validated data (which are far more accurate, but only available for some years) tell a similar story. A 2013 study by Stephen Ansolabehere and Eitan Hersh showed, using validated data, huge gaps in turnout between black (and Latino) men and women in the 2008 election. They write that, “The largest gender gap is among Blacks: black women are 17 percentage points more likely to vote than black men.”

A sound reason for low-turnout among black men (and possibly among Latino men as well) is felon disenfranchisement. One recent study finds, “1 of every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than non-African Americans.” The reason for why mass incarceration might depress black male turnout is simple: Both the Census Bureau and Ansolabehere/Hesh measure turnout as a share of citizen voting age population. However, a not insignificant share of the citizen population above the age of 18 cannot vote because they are either incarcerated or live in a state that disenfranchises former felons. (McDonald adjusts for this in his turnout data — though not for lifetime felon disenfranchisement.) As political scientist Bernard Fraga has shown, once this is controlled for, black male turnout actually exceeded that of white men and women in 2012.

There are other reasons to suspect that the carceral state is behind low black turnout, and could explain some of low Hispanic turnout. Vesla Weaver and Amy Lerman find that interactions with the justice system reduce civic participation, trust in government and voting. The effect is powerful: “The probability of voting declined 8 percent for those who had been stopped and questioned by the police; by 16 percent for those with a history of being arrested; by 18 percent for those with a conviction; by 22 percent for those serving time in jail or prison.” The relationship holds even after controlling for socioeconomic status and the propensity to commit crimes.

Politicians like Rick Scott, governor of Florida, have used felon disenfranchisement to maintain power. In 2011, Scott overturned an executive order that had previously allowed felons to regain access to the ballot box after navigating a complicated process. The result is that the number of disenfranchised felons in 2010 in Florida (although data on ex-felons are difficult to come by) was 1,541,602. For comparison, in 2014, 6 million ballots were cast in the Florida midterm, and Scott won by a mere 66,127 votes. One study estimates that former felons would turn out at a rate of about 24 percent in a midterm election. Assuming that level of turnout in Florida, nearly 370,000 more people would have voted — possibly costing Scott his seat.

The consequences of felon disenfranchisement are real. As I’ve noted before, voter turnout helps to determine the distribution of government, and depressed turnout means that many low-income and black counties receive less funding. In a 2003 study, Paul Martin found that counties with higher turnout receive more funding from the federal government, and, more recently, he and Michele P. Claibourn findthat “districts that vote at lower rates have less impact on their representatives’ policy positions.” That could be a part (though certainly not the full) explanation for why African-Americans aren’t represented as well as whites. Disenfranchisement also creates other problems: research suggests that restoring voting rights reducesrecidivism rates.

Ending mass incarceration and felon disenfranchisement is a first step toward healing our democracy, but it is certainly not enough. Another glaring disparity is turnout among Asians and Latinos, which can partially be explained by lower registration rates among those populations. Among registered Latinos and Asians, the gaps in turnout are far lower (see chart). But that’s only the first step:nonpartisan get-outthe-vote operations, competitive districts and easier access through both early voting and increased use of technology would also boost turnout. The policies politicians advocate can also boost turnout. But the results of Weaver and Lerman’s study suggest something further: we need to make sure that government is working to the benefit of Americans. When people primarily associate the government with policing and incarceration, they are far less likely to be active in their society and community. America cannot claim to be a true and vibrant democracy with so many still denied the basic right to vote and large shares of the population are locked in cages.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

How donors distort democracy

What would America look like if donors didn’t rule the world? It’s an interesting question and one worth pondering as the 2016 Presidential campaigns kick off. Available data reveals that donors not only have disproportionate influence over politics, but that influence is wielded largely to keep issues that would benefit the working and middle classes off of the table.

Do donors really rule the world? Recent research suggests that indeed they do. Three political scientists recently discovered that a 1 percent increase in donor support for a policy leads to a 1 percent increase in the probability the president supports the policy, if the president and donor are in the same party. On the other hand, they find no similar effect from general public opinion on presidential policies. In another study, Brian Schaffner and Jesse Rhodes find, “the roll call voting of members of Congress may be more strongly associated with the views of their donors (including outside donors) than with those of their voting constituents.” So who are these donors?

First off, donors are rich. Michael Barber performed a survey of about 2,870 donors who gave more than $200 in the 2012 election. The chart below shows the distributions of income and wealth, and donors are far richer. Fewer than 3 percent of donors reported an annual family income of less than $50,000 and more than 30 percent had an income greater than $350,000.

Donors are also whiter than the general public. Research suggests that 90 percent of federal contributions greater than $200 in the 2012 general election came from majority white neighborhoods. A study of the 2009 New York City municipal election finds that, at the highest levels of giving, the donor pool is least diverse. A study of Seattle’s 2013 election suggests that more than a quarter of contributions came from 391 contributors (0.07 percent of the population) who gave $1,000 or more. The research also shows that while Seattle is 67 percent non-Hispanic white, the neighborhoods from which more than half of contributions came from were 80 percent white. Other research suggests that donors are also disproportionately male.

Donors are also more conservative than the general public. There are two ways to show this. First, we can examine the preferences of the hyper-rich who make up the vast majority of donors. Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels and Jason Seawrightinterviewed some of these individuals, who make up the richest 1 percent of the population. Within their sample, 21 percent had helped bundle for candidates, and 68 percent had contributed money to candidates (an average of $4,633 over the 12 months before the survey). As the charts below show, these donors are more likely to oppose government ensuring that all Americans have healthcare coverage. In addition, while majorities of the general public favor national health insurance and are willing to pay more in taxes to provide health coverage to everyone, majorities of the wealthy disagree.

On issues of inequality, an interesting divide occurs. The rich agree with average Americans that inequality isn’t necessary for America’s prosperity and that income differences are too large. But, while the general public sees government as a way to reduce inequality, namely through taxes on the wealthy, the wealthy vehemently disagree.

Another source on differences between the donor class and the general public is the 2012 CCES, which political scientists Didi Kuo and Nolan McCarty recently analyzed. The chart below shows the preferences of ordinary Americans, the donor population in general, and then specifically Republican donors on a broad swath of issues. The data show that donors tend to be more conservative. Even without addressing partisan affiliation, donors are more likely than non-donors to support the extreme House Republican budget (17 percent of non-donors vs. 21 percent of donors in favor) and the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction package (47 percent to 54 percent). In addition, they are more likely to favor exempting contraception from the insurance mandate (37 percent to 45 percent). Republican donors, meanwhile, overwhelmingly supported exempting contraception from the mandate (88 percent). Finally, while the split between donors and non-donors on the ACA is small, only 9 percent of Republican donors supported the law, compared with 24 percent of Republicans who were non-donors.

In the absence of the donor class then, our policies on economic issues would be more progressive. Adam Lioz has argued that policies would also be more racially equitable, noting that, “the drive for racial equity in America faces a serious headwind: the role of private wealth and big business in our political system.” Lioz outlined how big money has helped fuel mass incarceration, the subprime mortgage crisis and slow the passage of paid sick leave.

The solution to big money is two-fold. First, we need mass voter participation. The path is simple: Eliminate unnecessary barriers to voting, shift the burden of registration off of people and onto the government and expand nonpartisan mobilization efforts. But that won’t be enough as long as donors rule democracy. So we should broaden the donor pool with a vibrant public financing system. Evidence from New York suggests that a donor-matching system could increase the diversity of the donor pool, further bolstering democracy. Demos has profiled a number of candidates that fight for working class and non-white Americans but were massively out-raised by their opponents, and showed how small donor democracy would boost their chances of winning. Candidate Eric Adams, when commenting on the New York public matching system noted that, “a large number of people who contribute to my campaign have never contributed to a campaign before.” A world in which big donors are less powerful is a world where average Americans have more of a say in politics.

This piece originally appeared on Salon