Tag Archives: politics

To Influence Policy, You Have to Be More than Rich

It’s a common refrain — politicians don’t listen to everyday Americans. But is that really true? And if so, whom do they listen to? Last year, two political scientists, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, attempted to answer that question in abombshell paper that suggested “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

The paper was widely lauded in the press culminating in an appearance on The Daily Show. But that fame came with misinterpretations of their research in attention-grabbing headlines painting their findings as nearly dystopian. Heath Brown, a political scientist at the CUNY Graduate Center, tells me, “Despite the assertion of certain headline writers, concluding that Gilens and Page demonstrated that we live in an oligarchy is not true to what they themselves claim nor the key findings of the research.” The paper’s popularity, along with these misinterpretations, lead to a wave of other research that has enriched the debate.

In their paper, Gilens and Page use a dataset Gilens compiled for his 2012 book,Affluence and Influence, which includes 1,779 policy cases between 1981 and 2002 as well as poll data measuring citizens’ preferences regarding those policies. They used the responses of the poorest 10 percent as the poor, median income individuals to represent average voters and the preferences of the richest 10 percent as a proxy for “economic elites.” They also compiled the policy preferences of interest groups like the NRA and Chamber of Commerce. They then compared the preferences of individuals across the economic spectrum to actual political outcomes. When they ran the preferences of each group separately, as the sole predictor of policy change, they found strong congruence with the policy preferences of average citizens, elites and interest groups and outcomes (though the elite group had the strongest congruence). However, when they ran the model with all the preferences combined, they found that the preferences of the middle class no longer predicted effects on outcomes. They report that when the preferences of ordinary Americans and elites differ, “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” In short, the rich get what they want. This analysis adds on the original analysis that Gilens did in his book, which was slightly different. There, he examined how representation shifted as preference gaps increased (the preference gap is the percentage point difference in the share of each class supporting the policy). He found that on issues where preference gaps were low (a less than 5 point difference between the percentage of the rich and middle class or poor opposed), representation was equal. However, as preference gaps increased, policymakers favored the rich. Combined, the book and the paper make a strong case for inequality of representation.

A more nuanced portrayal of this research, along with a survey of points made by its critics, suggests that frequently the views of the middle class and rich coincide closely. Thanks to party politics and a general bias toward the status quo, the policy preferences of Americans from all walks of life tend to converge. The data also reveal that the rich have an important ability to veto possible change. Instead, it’s the uber-rich, especially the subset who donate heavily to political campaigns and causes, who along with corporate lobbyists hold far greater sway than everyday voters in influencing government policymaking.

Democracy By Coincidence?
The core critique of Page and Gilens’ work is that the policy preferences of wealthy voters don’t actually differ that greatly from those of other voter classes (something they note in their paper, but which was almost entirely ignored in the media flurry). Further, critics argue that when the preferences do differ, it’s not clear that the rich are always the winners.

Take a yet-to-be published article by political scientists J. Alexander Branham, Stuart Soroka and Christopher Wlezien: “the rich and middle agree more than 90 percent of the time; when they disagree, the rich win only a little more often than the middle.” These authors wanted to examine specifically the issues in which there were clear class differences in policy. Rather than using a model or preference gaps, they examined issues in which there were clear divides in opinion: in which a majority of the wealthy favored one policy and the middle class or poor opposed it. This method certainly has advantages, but as Gilens notes in Affluence and Influence, because of status quo bias, there is a difference between a policy supported by 51% of a group and 75% of the group.

Among the full sample of policies, Branham, Soroka, and Wlezien examine majority support and opposition. They find that in the case of 1,594 policies (or 90% of the sample) the rich and middle class agree. There are 616 policies that both groups oppose and 978 that both groups favor. That leaves 185 policies that the rich and middle are split on. On 78 policies, the middle favor the policy and the rich do not, on the other 107, the rich favor but the middle do not. Here, the average gap in support is 10.9 percentage points on average. When examining only policies where there are opposed majorities, the “win rate,” or share of times the group has its preferences enacted are similar (though the rich are still advantaged). The authors also note that the poor do suffer slightly lower representation than other groups (policies they favor and other groups dislike are the least likely to pass). On the whole, however, they find representation is relatively equal when examining majority support (see the table below, Table 3 in their paper). They also find that wins for the rich and middle class do not break down easily ideologically, though the rich are slightly more likely to block left-leaning policies than conservative ones.

Another critique comes from Cornell political scientist Peter Enns, who proposesrelative policy support as an important metric: policies must be considered not independently, but relative to other policies. Imagine a scenario in which 60% of the rich supported a higher minimum wage and 70% of the middle class did, but 90% of the rich and 80% of the middle class supported a government health insurance program for children. Enns argues that, regardless of who the government was representing, both the middle class and rich would prefer a government health insurance program for children to a higher minimum wage. In this case, he argues that coincidental representation is occurring.

Charts help illustrate his case. The chart (below, Figure 5 in his paper) shows the high correlation between those at the median and those in the 90th percentile with the hollow dots representing the (large majority) of cases in which preference gaps are lower than 10 points. Of the full sample, there are only 322 policies in which there is a more than 10 point gap between the rich and middle class (there are 747 polices with a more than ten point gap between the rich and poor). Because of this, the possibilities for relative policy support are quite large. In his criticism, Enns writes, that because of similar patterns of relative policy support, “Even if policy only responds to the wealthy… we should expect that policy ends up about where those in the middle would expect if they received the same representation as affluent individuals.”

The most recent criticism, from Ph.D. student Omar Bashir, argues, “that average Americans have received their preferred policy outcome roughly as often as elites have when the two groups have disagreed with each other.” He argues that because of the incredibly high correlation between the preferences of the middle and the wealthy, the model that Gilens and Page constructed makes it difficult to discern patterns of representation. (As of publication, Gilens maintains that Bashir’s analysis contains methodological flaws, telling me, “the central claims he draws from is simulation are not supported”). Enns tells me that while scholars often disagree on the most appropriate analytical approach, Bashir’s approach appears defensible to him.

The authors often employ different methods of determining the similarity of preferences, which is important because American policy is strongly biased towards the status quo, and it often requires more than a simple majority to produce change. For instance, in the cases of a narrow pro-change majority, the policy preference of the public was adopted only 30% of the time. Even in cases of overwhelmingly majority support (80%) among the public, the policy change was only achieved 43% of the time (see chart below, Figure 3.2 in his book). This almost certainly helps explain why the middle class has little independent influence.

Gilens notes that if one examines issues on which 75% or more of the middle class support a policy (or 75% or more oppose it) and a 10-point preference gap, the middle class have a lower success rate than the rich. Only 34% of the time that that three-quarters of the middle class express a policy preference (and there is a 10 point gap with the rich) is neither policy preference enacted, compared with 66% of the time for the rich. Gilens writes that, “affluent Americans do not always get the policies they prefer either. But the affluent are twice as likely to see the policies they strongly favor adopted (46% compared with 19%), while the policies they strongly oppose are only one-fifth as likely to be adopted as those that are strongly opposed by the middle class (6% compared to 32%).” Further, Gilens notes that issues regarding redistribution are among those with the most intense disagreement between the rich and poor, and on these issues the rich win the most.

Enns responds that these policies (in which three quarters of the middle class have a preference and there is a 10 point gap compared to the rich) make about 5% of the sample. However, many of these questions are important questions about redistribution. Using data compiled by political scientist Matt Grossman, the chart below shows the areas with the biggest gaps between the median income and the top decile. It shows that key questions of redistribution are frequently fraught, with the median far more supportive of higher taxes on the rich and other redistributive policies.

Gilens also notes that even focusing on majoritarian preferences, gaps arise. In cases where both the rich and middle class agree, if the rich have greater support, the policy is more likely to pass (44% compared with 35%). This aligns with the analysis contained in Gilens’s original book, in which he shows that as preference gaps increase, the affluent become more likely to win compared to the middle class. In addition, the rich have an important veto power: among policies that both the middle class and rich oppose, when rich opposition was greater, only 17% of the policies passed. When middle class opposition was greater 28% of the policies passed. Indeed, a second look at their third table suggests the rich have a powerful veto power: only 20% of the policies favored by the middle and poor (but opposed by the rich) passed, compared with 39% of the policies that the rich favor and the middle and poor oppose.

Thus, though different methods reduce representational inequality, they do not eliminate it. Further, analysis suggests there is evidence that policymakers respond to the preferences of the middle-class and poor, though unequally. The question at the core of Gilens and Page is whether middle class and low-income people have independent influence on policy, rather than simply their preferences being congruent with outcomes. As Gilens writes, “coincidental representation is a pale, counterfeit, simulacrum of democracy.”

The corollary of this argument is that parties may matter more than income. In a 2013 paper, economists Eric Brunner, Stephen Ross, and Ebonya Washington argue that, “Differences in representation by income are largely explained by the correlation between constituent income and party affiliation.” A working paper by political scientist Chris Tausanovitch argues, “In recent years, representation occurs primarily through the selection of a legislator from the appropriate party.” In his paper, Enns argues that, “Although scholars have increasingly focused on the lack of responsiveness to middle-income Americans, it may be that partisan divisions matter most for policy outcomes.”

While this is an important point, but it’s not entirely clear that it undermines Gilens and Page. For one, parties in America are strongly divided by class but with a key caveat: while Republicans expertly represent the interests of the very rich, it’s not clear that Democrats do a superb job of representing the working class. But further, a working paper (discussed here) by political scientists Jesse Rhodes and Brian Schaffner finds that, Republican members of Congress are “more strongly associated with the ideological predispositions of individuals in higher wealth brackets,” while Democrats are less strongly associated with millionaires. However, they also find that, “millionaires receive about twice as much representation when they comprise just 5% of the district’s population than the poorest wealth group does when it makes up 50% of the district.” Their work therefore suggests that differential representation is mediated by parties, but parties can’t explain everything.

The Donors And The Lobbyists
One limitation of the current literature is that many studies don’t pay special attention to the ultra wealthy (the .1% and .01%), and particularly the donor class (whose views are disproportionately represented), instead grouping them in with the merely affluent (those in the top 10 percentile). There is good reason to believe that the wealthiest of the wealthy have views that are far from the general public,particularly regarding redistribution. In addition, there are reasons to believe the donor class, which is a unique subset of the wealthy, have differing views from both the general public and other wealthy people. Political scientist Michael Barber sent out a survey to donors who had given more than $200 to the 2012 Presidential campaign and around 2,870 responded. While 69% of Americans have a net worth below $250,000, only 8% of those in his sample did (18% of this sample had a net worth over $10 million – the threshold to be in the top 1% in 2012 was $8.4 million). He finds differences between donors and non-donors of the same party, with donors holding more extreme positions than voters. He also finds, not surprisingly, that politicians are more responsive to donors than co-partisans, individuals who voted for them, and voters in their state. In a 2010 study three scholars, Brittany H. Bramlett, James G. Gimpel, and Frances E. Lee find thatneighborhoods with high-concentrations of donors have preferences that differ from the rest of the nation. They write, “Even after accounting for their higher income and education, Democratic residents of high-donor areas are far more supportive of free trade and less concerned with job losses resulting from foreign competition than is typical for members of their party.” Political scientists Peter Francia, John Green, Paul Herrnson, Lynda Powell, and Clyde Wilcox find thatRepublican and Democratic donors are distinct from their bases, tending to be more ideologically extreme. They find that New Democrats, a significant part of the Democratic donors class actually had a more favorable view of the Chamber of Commerce than the AFL-CIO. On the other side of the aisle, “Large majorities of Republican donors belong to business organizations and support fiscally conservative economic policies.” A study of CCES data by political scientists Nolan McCarty and Didi Kuo finds “very substantial differences between donors and non-donors across a variety of issues. Not surprisingly, donors are considerably more conservative on economic policy.”

In addition, we may need to put greater emphasis on the influence of highly mobilized constituencies, like business groups, and how they distort the policy process. These groups tend to be the most out of line with the general public, and also to have the most clout when it comes to changing policy. It’s worth noting an important finding of the Page and Gilens’s paper that was largely buried during the press deluge: the biggest divergence in preferences was not between the rich and the poor, but rather all Americans and corporations and their lobbyists. It’s important to begin examining how income and power influences not just who wins when an issue comes to the roll call, but rather what determines which issues are discussed.

Finally, scholars should further examine how race and gender interact with income and representation. Studies suggest that low-income black women, for example, are particularly likely to be ignored by policymakers. The fact that donors tend to bewhite, male, and rich has profound implications for representation in a political system that is driven by donors.

The critics of Gilens and Page make a key point: because of high levels of congruence between the rich and middle class, when policymakers respond to the rich, they frequently enact the policy preferences of average Americans. However, full accounting of the evidence leaves the core finding of Gilens and Page standing: the views of the wealthy are disproportionately represented by policymakers, and representation for low and middle income Americans primarily comes from their congruence with the wealthy. It also includes the reality that policies opposed by the rich are far more likely to have the policies they dislike fail.

We must discuss how political information is mediated through social networks and the importance of working class mobilization. We must focus on the overwhelmingly white, male, and wealthy donor class, and the dynamics of race and representation. The influence of the Koch Brothers and other billionaire donors certainly pulls our politics to the right. Finally, we must consider overwhelmingly powerful business groups which spend heavily on campaign contributions and lobbying. The solutions to these problems are many, but disclosure and public financing are the most potent tools available given the current makeup of the Supreme Court. By empowering small donors, and bringing non-donors into the system, such a system could limit the power of big donors. Another solution would be building up legislative and research capacity for Congress, so they are less dependent on lobbyists. Research at the state level suggests that professionalized legislatures are more responsive to their constituents and less likely to pass model bills pushed by outside organizations like ALEC. Such a system could be structured to also give money to parties, a bulwark against private interests. In addition, progressives should see higher voter turnout as a way to disempower the donor class. A policy combination of automatic voter registration, universal vote by mail, campaign donations disclosure and public financing would be a strong anti-plutocracy agenda. But it’s only a start.

This piece originally appeared on Washington Monthly. 

The case for a job guarantee

Long-term unemployment is the scourge of modern economies. In a society where people take value from work, unemployment is destabilizing and degrading. A bout of long-term unemployment can permanently scar worker, leaving them with lower wages and fewer usable skills. Last year, Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker put forwarda persuasive case for a return to full employment as the palliative to unemployment. But it’s increasingly clear the private sector cannot create full employment on its own. Even at the height of the Clinton boom, millions of African-Americans and low-skilled workers were jobless. To get full employment, progressives should embrace an idea that hasn’t surfaced recently in mainstream American political dialogue: a universal government job guarantee.

In a recent article, Derek Thompson explored a future “world without work.” While his article was well-researched and informative, it misses a key point: For inner-city Black Americans, “a world without work” is not a dystopian future, but a present reality. As Mark Levine writes, “By 2010, in five of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, fewer than half of working-age black males held jobs. In 25 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, fewer than 55 percent of working-age black males were, in fact, employed.” In a recent Center for Economic Policy Research report Cherrie Bucknor notes the Black/white gap in employment rates “increased during the recent recession and is still larger than its pre-recession level.”

Reniqua Allen refers to this reality as the “permanent recession” that Black men face. People of color are the first to lose jobs during a recession and the last to gain them in a recovery. Further, many future losses from new technology will occur in heavily racialized sectors, like retail and fast food. Occupational segregation means that people of color, and particularly women of color, will bear the brunt of job losses. Racial justice requires addressing the future of work.

A government job guarantee has a long history in American politics. As Theda Skocpol notes in “Social Policy in The United States,” during the recession of the 1890s, the American Federation of Labor (which later merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations to form AFL-CIO), requested public works to abate the recession. They repeated these demands during the early 1900s, and after World War I demanded that “a nation that sent men into battle had a moral and political obligation to make sure they had jobs when they returned home.”

However, the AFL were opposed to government-sponsored unemployment insurance. Skocpol cites Alex Keyssar who writes that, “unionists stressed that public works programs were preferable to simple poor relief in three respects: They paid workers a living wage rather than a pittance; they permitted jobless men and women to avoid the demoralizing consequences of accepting charity; and they performed a useful public service.” However, over the past decade, the government hasn’t guaranteed jobs; instead ,conservative austerity policies have lead to millions of public sector jobs being cut.

One partial reason the government job guarantee may be off the political map these days is because many of those who support such a program no longer turn out to vote. Using ANES, I find that while non-voters are more likely to support than oppose a government-job guarantee, voters are overwhelmingly opposed. However, the ANES question is also rather strongly worded: The option that “government should let each person get ahead on own” is appealing, but in an economy where millions of Americans are unemployed or under-employed even at the lowest levels of unemployment, it also seems mythological.

A recent YouGov poll asks a more pointed question: “Would you favor or oppose a law guaranteeing a job to every American adult, with the government providing jobs for people who can’t find employment in the private sector?” In this formulation support increases significantly, though as the chart below shows, there are still race and class gaps.

A job guarantee could leverage two of the strengths of the progressive movement: electoral power at the federal and city level. A progressive President could direct money and projects to mayors, thereby ending the scourge of inner-city poverty that has plagued America for far too long. Progressives have a long history of creating more jobs, but have failed to articulate an argument for why that is true. That is mainly because progressives have preferred an active monetary policy, rather than active fiscal policy, to boost employment. But voters struggle to understand monetary policy. On the other hand, they could understand a universal job guarantee.

Research suggests that Obama’s response to the Great Recession may lead to voters trusting Democrats more on the economy; but as of yet, this has yet to materialize, and Republicans remain more trusted. A universal job guarantee could change that.

A recent survey of 200 leading economic security experts by the Center for Global Policy Solutions finds that 91 percent say that job creation is important for closing the racial wealth gap. The report recommends a National Investment Employment Corps, guaranteeing jobs with an annual salary of $23,000.

The biggest opposition to a government job guarantee will almost certainly come from big business, and particularly the business-conservative wing of the Republican Party. This may seem surprising, since businesses would benefit from infrastructure and public works, as well as having a highly trained workforce. But this is to misunderstand what corporations seek: not profit, but power.

Economist Chris Dillow makes this argument, arguing that full employment would deprive business of political power by removing their mystical power over the “state of confidence.” If, in fact, the government can maintain full employment, it won’t have to kowtow to business on taxes, regulation and spending. There are also labor implications. If workers could chose to reject a private sector job knowing that a public sector job was available, business would actually have to make working conditions livable and pay a fair wage. This “reserve army of unemployed paupers,” as one economist called them, ensures that workers accept degradation on the job rather than suffer the horrifying fate of unemployment.

The ultimate goal of business conservatives is to turn labor into one homogeneous glob that can be fired, re-located and re-trained at will. Thus they oppose paid sick leave, family leave and higher wages, even though all of these changes boost workerproductivity. Business conservatives despise the minimum wage, though there is very little credible evidence that a higher minimum wage would eliminate large numbers of jobs. The threat of the minimum wage is that it would cut into profits and, more importantly, power. Though more worker ownership would boost worker happiness and productivity, it worries bosses who feel they would be ceding control. Business wants to control workers as much as possible, devising Orwellian strategies to intrusively monitor workers. Business conservatives want workers to be expendable, so they have fought to ensure that if a worker is killed or maimed on the job, they will receive next to nothing.

With workers free to pursue a well-paid, productive public job, corporations would have to pay fairer wages and ensure better labor standards. But while private companies say they love competition, in reality nothing is more terrifying. That will be the most difficult force to overcome in the push for a public jobs program. But if it can be overcome, Americans will benefit extraordinarily. In the wake of the Great Recession, LaDonna Pavetti, writes, “thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia used $1.3 billion from the fund to place more than 260,000 low-income unemployed adults in temporary jobs in the private and public sectors.” The result for workerswas higher incomes, and an easier transition into the workforce after the subsidy program ended.

During the Great Depression, make-work programs funded art and infrastructure, most of which we still enjoy today. In the future, robots may do many of the jobs that humans currently do. That shouldn’t be a lament: We can now put human effort into healing the environment, curing disease and ending hunger.

Today, millions of Americans are jobless. Putting them to work would be a boon for economic growth. In the future, everyone can have a truly fulfilling and life affirming job. But that’s going to require some will, and some government.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

New Evidence That The Rich Are More Conservative Than the Rest Of Us

It’s a long-running debate: Are rich people more conservative, and particularly more likely to be Republican? The answer is yes, and a large literature establishes this, but the debate still rages on, driven partially by the cognitive biases of elite commentators. In a recent study, Erik Peterson shed some light on the debate using a random event that could shift an individual’s political preferences: winning the lottery.

In his study, Erik Peterson examined how winning the lottery affected 1,900 registered voters. His work follows in the vein of recent research by Nattavudh Powdthavee and Andrew J. Oswald, who find that “[lottery] winners tend to switch towards support for a right-wing political party and to become less egalitarian. The larger the win, the more people tilt to the right.” Lottery winners were also more likely to express sympathy for the current distribution of income and wealth. Earlier work by Daniel Doherty, Alan S. Gerber and Donald P. Green suggests that lottery winners were more likely to express opposition to estate taxes and redistribution.

Unlike their work, Peterson eschews surveys, instead using data from the lottery winners’ voter files. In particular, he finds that lottery winners are more likely to become registered Republicans. The effect was modest for those who were registered before winning the lottery, but was more dramatic for those who had not been registered before. Thus: More money increases Republican identification.

As the data below (from the American National Elections Studies) suggest, the rich tend to be far more conservative than the average American and are far more likely to vote Republican. In a recent study, Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal find that between 1956 and 1996, “partisanship has become more stratified by income.” The ANES data also include conservative and liberal self-identification, and here again, those in the highest percentile are more conservative than others (21 percent of the poorest reported being conservative in 2008, compared to 59 percent in 2008).

The rich are also far more likely to favor cutting services and spending (on a seven-point scale) than increasing services.

If the rich tend to be more conservative, why do so many influential journalists — like for example The New York Times’ David Brooks — argue that they aren’t? Some of the answer is misinformation. Republicans are trying to shed their reputation as the party of the rich, so many seize on scant evidence – like the fact that some exit polls showed that those earning more than $200,000 skewed toward Obama in 2008 — to make the case that in fact, the rich are more liberal. But even if commentators are not motivated by politics, there are two other factors at work:

First, the rich do tend to be more socially liberal than the poor and middle class, but with an important caveat. In one study, Benjamin Page and Cari Lynn Hennessy use the General Social Survey to examine the views of the richest 4 percent of the country. They find that the top 4 percent are “much more socially liberal or libertarian, and more economically conservative, than those of the average American.” Further, they find that these views are distinct from the top third of the income distribution. Thus, on a comprehensive metric of partisanship, the wealthy will appear more centrist because of their views on social issues. However, Stephen Ansolabehere, Jonathan Rodden and James M. Snyder Jr. find that “economic policy preferences are more important than moral policy preferences in accounting for voting behavior and party identification.” When David Brooks or other journalists note the social liberalism of the rich as evidence that they are Democratic, they are ignoring the economic issues that drive votes.

It’s worth noting here also that this idea, that the social conservatism of the working class has led them to vote Republican, is incorrect. Another factor at work is how geography and race intersect deeply with partisanship. As Larry Bartels notes, “white working-class voters see themselves as closer to the Democratic Party on social issues like abortion and gender roles but closer to the Republican Party on economic issues.” Further, in his seminal book on the subject, “Rich State, Poor State,” Andrew Gelman finds that “higher-income people have been consistently more likely to vote Republican, especially since 1970.” However, he also finds that “Voters in richer states support the Democrats — even though, within any given state, richer voters tend to support the Republicans.”

Essentially: In poor red states, partisan views are dramatically polarized by income. (And race is a significant factor here.) In richer blue states, there is far less polarization, and income does less to predict views.

However, there’s a final part of this story: Even the rich who do sympathize with the Democratic party are different from the average Democratic voter. In a pioneering study, Page, Jason Seawright and Larry Bartels interviewed 83 high-wealth individuals. Demos has examined those findings in more depth elsewhere, but a key finding that is rarely discussed is that

about twice as many of our respondents considered themselves Republicans (58 percent) as considered themselves Democrats (27 percent)… on economic issues wealthy Democratic respondents tended to be more conservative than Democrats in the general population.

That is, rich Democrats still tend to have more economically conservative views. To test Page’s argument with another source, I ran some numbers using the American National Election Studies 2012 data. They have 2,000+ respondents who voted for Obama in 2012. I examined how opinions on spending differed among Democratic voters of different classes. I found that there are very little differences on issues like the environment and schools. However, on issues like Social Security and spending on the poor, wide gaps emerge. There are also differences in preferences about the size of government. This is only one source, but it lends support to the idea that there might be something distinct about wealthy opinion, at least as it relates to the role of government in the economy.

Given the extent to which our current political system is biased toward the rich, this finding should be worrying: Even rich Democrats aren’t strongly behind economic liberalism. One solution is to strengthen unions, which consistently advocate for policies that benefit the middle class and working class. Another solution is public financing, which could make the voices of ordinary Americans louder. The problem is, until the rich stop dominating the political system, one point of view will be heard more loudly in Congress.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

How Progressive Policies Boost Economic Growth

At the core of the debate between liberals and conservatives is a dispute over whose policies are better for economic growth, and particularly for the middle class. A new studyby Bryan Dettrey and Harvey D. Palmer suggests one way to test this question — by examining how economic growth differs under Republican and Democratic presidencies. Their finding might not be too surprising: Under Republicans, growth boosts the stock market, while under Democrats, it reduces unemployment.

The two academics examine how economic growth is distributed over time. Their data are expansive, covering the 60-year period from January 1951 to December 2010. They find that once economic growth increases above 1 percent a year — and it does so over most of the period they studied — “the average level of unemployment is significantly higher under Republican administrations.”

As the above charts (from their paper) show, with either a one- or two-year lag, Democrats reduce unemployment dramatically during periods of GDP growth compared to Republicans. Some of this effect has to do with inflation rates (as a I note below), but the authors note another key difference: They argue that Republican policies (for instance, massive tax cuts for the rich and cuts to capital gains) incentivize corporations to use money to compensate CEOs or distribute to shareholders, rather than invest in workers and jobs.

Dettrey and Palmer are not the first academics to raise these points. In a 2004 paper, Larry Bartels showed that “Democratic presidents have produced slightly more income growth for poor families than for rich families.” He updated that analysis earlier this year and found the same result. One reason he cites is the minimum wage: Its real value increased 16 cents a year under Democrats, but decreased by 6 cents a year under Republicans. Aseminal study by Douglas Hibbs found that “the unemployment rate was driven downward by Democratic and Labor administrations and upward by Republican and Conservative governments.” In another study, Alan Blinder and Mark Watson found that the economy grows faster under Democrats, but couldn’t determine why. It could be that the safety net boosts entrepreneurship by making Americans feel more economically secure (and willing to take risks).

There is also an increasingly large body of research on differing government policies at the state level. Christopher Witko and Nathan Kelly note that “since the Republican takeover of Congress in 1995, the states have played a more important role in shaping the income distribution,” and, consequently, in driving income inequality. In another paper, Elizabeth Rigby and Megan Hatch identify three major policies that states can pursue to slow the income growth of the 1 percent. In particular, they find that “policies played a significant role in shaping income inequality in the states.” If states had adopted more liberal policies, Rigby and Hatch suggest, the increase in inequality (as measured by the Gini Coefficient) would have been 60 percent smaller — and the share going to the top 1 percent would have been halved.

(Story continues below the chart.)

Overall, Hatch and Rigby find that conservative policies tend to exacerbate inequality, while liberal policies tend to reduce it. Rigby tells me that the “more redistribution” scenario can be considered the “liberal” scenario, and “less redistribution” the “conservative” scenario, although Democrats don’t always line up perfectly behind liberal policies. Kelly and Witko concur: “We observe that when unions are stronger and left party governments are in power at either the federal or state level we see lower levels of inequality.” Numerous other studies surveyed by Anne Case and Timothy Besley suggestthat Democrats boost government spending, particularly on workers’ compensation and Medicaid (see pages 44 and 45).

Finally, it’s worth noting the racial impacts of these policies. I recently highlighted research by Zoltan Hajnal and Jeremy Horowitz showing that people fare far better under Democrats than Republicans. Given that black and Latino Americans are more likely to end up unemployed — research suggests this is part of the reason for the racial wealth gap — Republicans’ preference for tightening monetary policy is most likely to fall on people of color. Conservatives may not be intending to harm black people, but their policies can end up having a disproportionate impact on them nonetheless.

Inequality did not arise in a vacuum. Government policy plays a significant role in determining the distribution of income. To take one policy, Anthony Atkinson and Andrew Leigh find that reductions in tax rates explain between one half and one third of the rising share of income going to the 1 percent in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. (As I’ve noted elsewhere, there is strong evidence that unions and Democrats can reduce inequality, although unions are more effective.) Meanwhile, Olivier Bargain and others find that tax policy accounted for at least 29 percent of the increase in inequality between 1979 and 2007, and likely more. Further, they find, “Republican policymakers increased inequality especially at the top whereas Democrats increased the income share of the bottom 80 percent of the distribution.”

These findings decimate the idea that there isn’t “a dime’s worth of difference” between America’s two major parties. Many commentators in particular focus too much on marquee policies and miss the “market conditioning” and other minor policies that Republicans and Democrats pursue in office, which can have an outsized impact on economic outcomes. (The fact that these same commentators often worry about “rising polarization” is telling.)

In fact, there are differences in the way Republicans and Democrats govern. Pretending there aren’t doesn’t just sow confusion, it may hurt the left as well. A recent study findsthat when people don’t perceive large differences between the parties, they are less likely to vote; and when people become alienated from the political process, they are less likely to vote. By contrast, as David Brockington argues, “choice-rich environments” increase the probability that people will turn out to vote.

It is clear that the parties offer distinct options to voters. While it is certainly true that liberal parties sometimes do less to fight inequality in the era of globalized finance, they still have an important influence over outcomes. The Republican party has indeed become the party of the rich.

Worryingly, however, Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler find that “respondents who perceive a greater difference between the candidates… are more likely to vote.” And “those in the top income quintile see a larger difference between the candidates on ideology than do those in the bottom quintile.” Research suggests that when voters gain more information, they shift to support more liberal policies and parties. In the current system, much of the problem rests in the fact that low-income and middle-income voters don’t realize that conservatives are fleecing them. The rich do realize they benefit fromRepublicans, and therefore have an incentive to turn out. Commentators who suggest that the two parties are the same, rather than galvanizing Democrats toward more progressive policies, may be simply keeping conservatives in power.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

How Donors Distort Democracy

It’s early, but arguably the most important paper of the year has already been released. The author, Michael Jay Barber, finds persuasive evidence that those who donate more than $200 (.22% of the population in 2014), wield more influence over our political system than anyone else.

Demos has explored this issue extensively, arguing that the rise of money in politics has hampered both racial justice and economic mobility. However, the new evidence makes our case even stronger, and more important than ever.

Barber mailed out 20,500 letters to people who donated to Senate campaigns in 2012 and then analyzed how similar the positions taken by politicians were to donor and  non-donors in the state. He notes that politicians almost perfectly align with the views of donors, align strongly with the preferences of those who are from the same party and voted for them, less well with those who voted for them and not at all with their constituents (see chart).

But the paper contains another disturbing fact: donors are polarizing our politics.

As I’ve noted before, polarization is an important driver of inequality, and the polarization is largely driven by elite control of the political system. Barber’s evidence supports this argument: he finds that donors are far more extreme than voters in general and supporters of the candidates (see chart).

He observes that while about 60% of Republican voters dislike the Affordable Care Act, opposition is nearly unanimous among donors. It is donors, not Republican voters, that are driving the numerous efforts to repeal Obamacare. Barber concludes that even among the rich, donors are far better represented than voters, and more extreme.

He finds support in a recent paper by Jesse Rhodes and Brian Schaffner, who wrote (in a study of the House of Representatives), “we estimate that millionaires receive about twice as much representation when they comprise about 5% of the district’s population than the poorest wealth group does when it makes up 50% of the district.” They find that conservative politicians are more responsive to the donor class than liberals (a finding supported elsewhere).

But is the story here that politicians are responding to donors, or donors responding to the positions of politicians. Another paper by Barber suggests that extreme donors are driving extreme politicians. He examines state-level campaign contribution limits and finds that states with higher limits have more polarized legislatures. This suggests that politicians become more extreme to get money from the donor class. Patrick Flavin notes that in states with stricter campaign finance laws devote a large portion of their budgets to programs that benefit the poor. In another study, Walter Stone and Elizabeth Simas find, “that challengers closer to the extreme received greater financial contributions, which enhanced their chances of victory.”

In a 2014 study, Barber, Brandice Canes-Wrone and Sharece Thrower examined how Presidents respond to the donor class. They find that, “there is no clear relationship between general public opinion on an issue and the president’s support for that issue.” However, they find,

when examining presidential issue support alongside co-partisan donor issue support, we observe a clear positive relationship. Particularly, as donors increase their support for an issue, so does the president. While this conforms to our expectations, we also see that there exists a similar positive relationship between the positions of the president and non-donors of his party.

To disentangle whether Presidential candidates were responding to donors or simply partisan supporters, they examined issues where partisan supporters and donors disagreed. In these conflicts, they find,

a one percentage increase in co-partisan donor support on an issue correlates with a one percentage increase in the probability that the president supports that same issue. Further, we find no significant effect of non-donor co-partisan opinion or general public opinion on presidential issue support.

That is, the views of the general public and even people of the same party of Presidential candidates has no effect on what issue a Presidential candidate supports. This is consistent with the work of Martin Gilens who finds,

economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

American democracy is controlled by a small donor class who advocate in favor of issues that the vast majority of Americans oppose.

This piece originally appeared on Policyshop.

America’s white millennial problem: Why the next great generation might not be a liberal one

Nearly anytime Democrats lose an election, there is a pervasive narrative that, just around the bend, there will be an “emerging Democratic majority.” Originally projected to occur between 2004 and 2008, it now appears further away than ever after last month’s midterm blowout. Republicans have a stranglehold on the House, where they control their largest number of seats since 1948. That lead will be incredibly tough to chip away at. Democratic chances of regaining the Senate in 2016, once considered a near certainty, are looking iffy. Republicans control 31 governorships, as well as 68 of 98 state legislative chambers. Democrats still have a strong chance of winning the Presidency, but given the importance of the states for shaping income distribution and policy, even that victory will ring hollow.

Yet again, the Democratic Party faces bleak governing prospects in the short term, with only the nebulous promise of a demographic windfall somewhere off in the future — and even that prospect should be little comfort to progressives. While the “millennial” generation has widely been seen as the key to future of Democratic successes, there are reasons to believe that the liberalism of millennials, at least on certain key issues, has been overstated.

Yes, there is a strong case that younger voters on the whole are more liberal. For instance, a study by the Center for American Progress finds that while the mean American’s ideological position is 209 (with 0 being most conservative and 400 being most progressive), those under 29 score 219.7 (Obama voters scored 244).  But while millennials are more socially liberal across the board, there are stark racial divides on economic issues. Younger voters are more likely than older voters to agree with the statement, “Labor unions are necessary to protect the working person” and “the government should be doing more to solve problems.” These questions, however, are rather vague and positively worded. And other data suggest a large gap between white millenials and millenials of color. For instance, young white men supported Romney in the 2012 election.

White millenials are also significantly less supportive of Obama (54 percent) than black millenials (95 percent) and Hispanic millenials (76 percent). The most recent poll of Obama finds that young whites and older whites have virtually identical approval ratings. A recent Pew survey of millennials finds that on economic issues, there are strong gaps between young whites and young non-white millenials (see chart).

On social issues, however, these gaps are virtually non-existent. This suggests that while social liberalism will continue to be a political winner, economic liberalism may be tougher to sell to white millenials. Additionally, while white millenials say they want to live in a racially equitable society, they are no more likely than their parents to support policies to make that society come about. ”At the same time, whites primed with the reality of growing diversity become are less likely to say they support diversity and more likely to support the Republican party.”

Furthermore, even as minorities make up a larger and larger percentage of the electorate, these racial changes will not inevitably benefit Democrats. While Republicans have never won more than 40 percent of the Latino vote  – the claim that Bush won 44 percent in 2004, as widely reported, now appears to have been incorrect — they could do so in the future. Pew data, for example, show that third generation Hispanics are more socially liberal, but more economically conservative than older Hispanics.

Additionally, a recent Gallup poll shows support for Obama among younger Black Americans is modestly lower than support among their older counterparts. This actually hold strue among millenials as a whole; as there appear to be age gaps that would render the Democratic advantage ephemeral. Harvard’s Institute of Politics finds that there is a distinct difference between the way young millenials (18-to-24) and older millenials (25-to-29) view Obama. Meanwhile, a 2012 American University poll finds that college students in swing states supported Obama by 35 points, while high schoolers (13-to-17) in swing states supported Obama over Romney by only 7 points.

Discussing the future always presents challenges, particularly in the realm of politics. However, when we look at the ideologies that shape the parties, we can see a few general trends from these data. First, the economic liberalism of the millenial generation appears to be driven primarily by people of color, rather than by younger, more liberal whites. (On social issues, the generation appears to be more liberal across the board.) Second, while millenials lean Democratic, they are still effectively up for grabs. White millenials, the data show, may become suspicious of further government programs to advance racial equality, and young people of color may be open to a Republican party that eschews virulent racism. Finally, electoral structures combined with the geographic locations of Democratic voters will bias the system toward Republicans for at least another decade, and possibly longer.

It’s difficult to know what parties will do to remain viable in a shifting American political landscape. However, it’s by no means certain that a new “Democratic majority” will be an economically liberal one. It’s plausible that the new Democratic party will embrace an Andrew Cuomo-esque neoliberalism. The Democratic party that appears to be emerging will be friendlier to finance and economically conservative, but also very socially liberal, particularly on gay marriage and women’s rights. The Democratic party will be committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions but not at a terrible price to businesses. Public goods will be sold off at bargain basement prices and the safety net will be expanded only slowly, if at all. Both parties will pretend that racial grievances are a thing of the past and present a rosy vision of color-blind America. The ideological distance of both parties on foreign policy will remain where it is today: virtually indistinguishable. This is not inevitable, but what we know about millenials, particularly white ones, suggest this is the most plausible scenario. In the battle for the soul of the Democratic party, millenials might not be on Team Elizabeth Warren.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

Big Box Retailers Own The Political Process On Black Friday

Co-Written with Catherine Ruetschlin.

Big retail has dramatically increased the amount of money it spends influencing the political system. Back in 2000, all the big retailers together (Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, Target, Lowe’s and Best Buy) spent a meagre $5 million (in 2013 dollars) buying influence. In 2014, a relatively unimportant midterm election, that number increased six-fold.

Among the big box retailers we examined, the biggest were Walmart and Home Depot, followed by Target and Best Buy. Walmart’s political activities are unsurprising — politicians have richly rewarded the company. A recent study by Americans for Tax Fairness finds that Walmart saves $1 billion a year in tax breaks and avoids taxes on $21.4 billion it holds offshore. Added to that are the $6.2 billion Americans taxpayers subsidize Walmart’s employees with food stamps and other public aid, because Walmart doesn’t pay its workers enough to live. In a recent annual report, Walmart openly admitted that changes to government food stamp programs may hurt its financial performance.

Walmart’s spending on the political system has increased dramatically, with total spending topping $10 million in the last four elections. It’s clear why, the AFT estimates that Walmart could save $7 billion more over the next decade if the corporate tax rate falls to 25 percent.

In addition to Walmart’s spending, the Walton family spends millions on the political system. They’ve also hired a private lobbyist to lobby for changes to the estate tax that now benefit them to the tune of hundreds of millions. In addition the Walton Family Foundation is one of the biggest education funders in the country, and is one of the biggest supporters of the privatization agenda. As the chart below shows, Democrats rarely benefit from the Walton family’s largess.

In fact, Democrats rarely benefit from any of the big retailers. Over the period studied, Republicans got $2 for every $1 given to Democrats for the major retailers. Among the big retailers, only Costco showed a preference for Democrats, while Lowe’s had the largest disparity, favoring Republicans 3.5 to 1.

It’s important to note that these numbers massively understate the influence of big box retailers. Because of bad disclosure laws, we just don’t know that much about corporate spending. We don’t have the foggiest idea what big box retailers are spending on state and local elections. We don’t know how much they pay to be members of organizations like ALEC. We don’t know how much they give to 501(c)6 organizations like the Chamber of Commerce. Walmart, for instance, is a member of the the RATE Coalition, Alliance for Competitive Taxation (ACT) and the Business Roundtable (BRT).

All of this money brings rewards for companies. Retailers lobby on a variety of issues, including tax policy, labor issues, and the terms of international trade. A vast literature shows that these efforts produce returns, often at the expense of other democratic interests. The research firm Strategas maintains an index of the fifty firms that lobbying most intensely. The index hasoutperformed the S&P 500 every year since 1998. In a comprehensive study of conflicts between lobbying groups and other coalitions, researchers found that business interests prevailed in 9 out of 11 issues in which businesses and labor were opposed. In the 16 cases that pitted business groups against citizen group coalitions, businesses won 9.

Although the vast amounts of money went to lobbying, campaign contributions also produce benefits There is strong evidence that the most important impact of campaign contributions is to increase access to politicians with the intent of setting the political agenda. A study of the telecommunications industry finds that regulators respond to private political spending with regulations that favor the donors. Companies that bid for federal contracts across industries are more likely to be granted those contracts if the bids are complemented by campaign contributions. Big retail normally backs winners: a Demos analysis finds that 81 percent of the 291 candidates that received money from Walmart in 2014 won their election.

What can be done to stop the spread of big money in politics? Over the long-run we need to overturn laws like Citizen’s United that opened the floodgates of money into Congress. But there are also short-term solutions. The Supreme Court explicitly endorsed disclosure as the alternative to campaign contribution limits. On the heels of Citizens United, Congress came within one vote of overcoming a party-line filibuster to pass the DISCLOSE Act. In the absence of Congress, shareholders should demand that corporations either get out of politics, or disclose their donations to organizations like ALEC that they might not approve of. SEC should require this disclosure if Congress won’t.

Publicly financed elections can help candidates not in the pockets of big money get into office, and more states should consider the system. To slow the rise of lobbying states and the federal government should regulate it more strictly. Patrick Flavin finds that states with stricter regulations on lobbying are more politically equal — that is, responsive to voters of all income groups. Policies that help people vote, instead of disenfranchising them, would also go a long way to making the political system more responsive. Americans need to tell Congress that even on Black Friday, government isn’t up for sale.

This article originally appeared on Talking Points Memo

When Retailers Shop the Season Doesn’t End at Christmas

Co-written with Catherine Ruetschlin, Senior Policy Analyst at Demos.

Unfortunately for voters, the $3.7 billion spent over the most recent election cycle did not come with a gift receipt. Despite being rung up as the most expensive midterm in US history, nearly two-thirds of Americans sat out the election—the lowest voter turnout in more than 70 years. Those who didn’t turn-out were disproportionately low-income people, who are increasingly shut out of the political process. It makes sense to see growing disillusionment with politics alongside massive outside spending, since the interests of ultra-wealthy donors are unlikely to reflect the experiences of most citizens. On issues like the minimum wage, the divergence can be stark. That is one reason why low-wage retail workers are making their case for better working conditions in big-box parking lots for the third straight year of Black Friday strikes. They need a public forum on the Walmart economy, and big-box retail took the last one on the shelf.

In our recent paper, Retail Politics: How America’s Big-Box Retailers Turn Their Economic Power into Political Influence, we found that the six largest big-box retailers in the US spent $30 million on campaign contributions and lobbying during the latest election cycle—that’s six times more than they spent in 2000. Walmart and Home Depot, in particular, rank among the top campaign spenders in the nation. And this spending is not like consumption spending on, say, some cheap imported merchandise, it is an investment with real returns.

2MyReport1_PoliticalSpending

Political spending of big business is as much about flooding the process with friendly faces as it is about establishing access once the election is over. The campaign and committee donations of wealthy interests first fill the playing field with candidates who share their priorities, and then elevate the issues they care about most. Over time, big-box retailers have supported Republicans over Democrats by a clear margin of 2-to1. But in the 2014 cycle these companies spent their political dollars widely, giving on both sides of the aisle—and even donating to opposing candidates in contested races.

2MyReport3_PartySpendingRatio

This campaign spending combines with millions of dollars in lobbying to allow those with the fattest wallets to shape the country’s political agenda. As a result, the small population of affluent Americans sees their priorities reflected in our legislative objectives, even when the majority of the country disagrees with their preferences. For example, taxes were the most frequently lobbied issue by big-box retailers in 2014 by a large margin. This legislative area has proven lucrative for business in the past—experts in corporate strategy research show that a 1 percent increase in businesses lobbying expenditures yields a lower effective tax rate of between 0.5 and 1.6 percent for the firm. Yet when there is conflict between big corporations and other interests over policy change, policy sides with big business lobbyists the vast majority of the time.

Meanwhile, the increase in big-box retail’s political spending occurred at the same time that the most important lobby for workers floundered. Previous research by our organization, Demos, has found that unions are the only interest group that consistently lobbies in the interests of average Americans. However, data from the Center for Responsive Politics show that business interests outspend unions 15 to 1. The democratic chorus in Washington has shifted from one that is broadly in favor of business interests to one virtually devoid of any other voices. It is unsurprising in this context that after an almost two-decade fall, the share of Americans saying that government is “run by a few big interests,” is as high as 70 percent.

TheWeekFig3

That loss of trust in the equal democratic voice for all Americans also reflects where the money is. According to data from American National Election Studies, unskilled workers  are more   likely to agree that government is run by a few big interests than their white collar and professional peers. That perception is reinforced by the escalating importance of private money in elections, and it shows an intuitive read of the very real problems with democracy, like research that suggests the preferences of average Americans simply won’t change much in Washington.

There are no Black Friday bargains when it comes to political contributions, but there are ways to make small-dollar donations matter more to those on the receiving end. Public finance, federal matching of small donors and effective lobbying regulations can amplify the voices currently drowned out by big money, and begin assuring Americans that democracy is not for sale.

This piece originally appeared on Huffington Post. 

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

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.