Inequality and Political Behavior: Objective Levels Versus Subjective Perceptions

Posted: 8 Mar 2018

Date Written: March 8, 2018


Inequality poses one of the biggest challenges of our time. Evidently, it is not self-correcting in the sense that citizens demand more redistributive measures in light of rising inequality. Recent studies suggest this might be due to the fact that citizens’ perceptions of inequality diverge from objective levels. Moreover, it is not the latter, but the former, which are related to preferences conducive to redistribution. Yet, the nascent literature on inequality perceptions exhibits at least two lacunae. First, studies so far have not accounted for the role of subjective position in society. And second, studies on political participation and attitudes still rely by and large on objective levels of inequality. Against this backdrop, our paper advances two arguments: the relationship between inequality perceptions and preferences towards redistribution is conditional on the subjective position of respondents; and political participation and attitudes are rather related to subjective perceptions of inequality instead of objective levels. To that end, we analyze comprehensive survey data on inequality perceptions from the social inequality module of the International Social Survey Programme (1992, 1999, and 2009). Since no comparative data with indicators for both inequality perceptions and political behavior is available, we join additionally a wave of the 2004 ISSP and apply multiple imputation. This allows, for the first time, testing subjective perceptions of inequality as predictor of political behavior. Gaining a better understanding of inequality perceptions contributes to comprehending the absence self-correcting inequality.

Keywords: Inequality, Political Behavior, Redistribution, Participation, Protest, Perceptions

JEL Classification: D63, D01, D72, D91

Suggested Citation

Fatke, Matthias, Inequality and Political Behavior: Objective Levels Versus Subjective Perceptions (March 8, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics