Responsiveness in an Era of Inequality: The Case of the U.S. Senate
42 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 21 Nov 2011
Date Written: 2011
To what extent do members of Congress respond unequally to people in different economic situations? How does partisan control of the agenda change the way in which Senators respond to the poor? Using data from the 2004 National Annenberg Election Study (NAES), and multiple roll call votes, I examine Senate responsiveness across a range of issues for the 107th through 111th Congresses. Additionally, I use the 107th Congress as a case study to test responsiveness under changes in agenda control. This paper has three important findings. First, I find extreme biases in responsiveness to constituents in different economic groups, with more wealthy individuals receiving the highest level of representation, while poorer groups seem to be either ignored, or have legislators act in opposition to their preferences. Second, the major political parties seemed to have recently switched roles as the Democratic Party has become responsive to the wealthy, while Republicans are responsive to the middle-class. Third, partisan control of the agenda does impact the way in which different groups receive representation as Democratic control of the Senate tends to lead to increased responsiveness toward the middle class. The findings in this paper are suggestive of broader factors at play in terms of the representation of different income groups, subconstituency politics, and the policies aimed at reducing economic inequality in the United States.
Keywords: inequality, responsiveness, senate, representation
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