Economic Biases in Representation: Using New Data to Shed Light on How Wealth Affects Access to Political Representation

27 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2015  

Jesse H. Rhodes

University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Brian F. Schaffner

University of Massachusetts Amherst - Department of Political Science

Date Written: February 23, 2014

Abstract

While recent research has advanced our understanding of the relationship between wealth and representation, this work has been hampered by limitations in existing data sources. To date, research on economic biases in representation has depended almost exclusively on cross-sectional survey data. These data suffer from a number of limitations - especially very small samples of wealthy individuals and very coarse measures of wealth - that preclude investigation of whether truly wealthy persons (as opposed to the merely well-to-do) enjoy disproportionate political influence. More important, these data are not well-positioned to determine whether individual wealth has a causal influence on political representation. Because survey-based studies lack control over the key variable in the analysis - individual wealth - the observed link between wealth and representation remains tentative.

This paper advances our understanding of the relationship between economic inequality and political representation in several ways, drawing on a new dataset provided by Catalist, a political data vendor that sells detailed registration and micro-targeting information to the Democratic Party, unions, and progressive interest groups. First, and consistent with previous studies, our research demonstrates that wealth is related to representation. Second, and more important, we provide the first evidence for a causal influence of wealth on representation. We show that individuals who make large up-ward (downward) moves in their districts' wealth distributions as a result of redistricting receive much more (less) representation from their legislators than do those whose positions in district wealth distributions do not change.

Suggested Citation

Rhodes, Jesse H. and Schaffner, Brian F., Economic Biases in Representation: Using New Data to Shed Light on How Wealth Affects Access to Political Representation (February 23, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2561423 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2561423

Jesse H. Rhodes (Contact Author)

University of Massachusetts at Amherst ( email )

Department of Operations and Information Managemen
Amherst, MA 01003
United States
413-545-6185 (Phone)

Brian F. Schaffner

University of Massachusetts Amherst - Department of Political Science ( email )

Thompson Hall
Amherst, MA 01003
United States

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