Democracy in Poverty: A View from Below

68 Pages Posted: 14 May 2013

See all articles by Daniel Weeks

Daniel Weeks

Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics

Date Written: May 16, 2013


The principle of one person — one vote is central to modern notions of democracy. Political equality requires that all citizens are able to make their voices heard in the political process and that elected officials are continually responsive to the needs of their constituents. Nevertheless, socio-economic status is fast becoming a major determinant in the amount of influence a citizen commands in American politics. By examining recent trends in political participation and consulting low-income Americans directly, this paper demonstrates the widening gulf in political voice and power along socio-economic lines when it comes to voting and volunteering in election campaigns; funding candidates for public office; and engaging Washington directly through lobbying and interest groups. Americans with limited incomes and education are found to be less than half as likely to vote in national elections as their more privileged counterparts (often for reasons beyond their own control, including formal disenfranchisement) and far less likely to participate in lobbying and other forms of political expression. When it comes to funding elections, a tiny fraction of wealthy Americans, drawn primarily from business and the law, provides more campaign money than 99.9 percent of the population combined. These and other findings point to an emerging institutional corruption, wherein political leaders are largely dependent on a small and unrepresentative economic elite rather than the public at large. Left unchecked, such dependence corruption threatens to deepen systemic poverty and inequality in the United States.

Keywords: Institutional Corruption, Poverty, Democracy, Political Equality, Political Voice, Voting, Elections, Participation, Campaign Finance, Campaign Contributions, Lobbying, Citizenship

Suggested Citation

Weeks, Daniel, Democracy in Poverty: A View from Below (May 16, 2013). Edmond J. Safra Working Papers, No. 10, Available at SSRN: or

Daniel Weeks (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics ( email )

124 Mount Auburn Street
Suite 520N
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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