October 20, 2010
You Can Ignore Some of the People All of the Time

This is from a study (download file) by Larry M. Bartels at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs:

In addition, senators seem to have been quite responsive to the ideological views of their middle- and high-income constituents — though, strikingly, not to the views of their low-income constituents.

Whether we consider the three Congresses separately or together, the data are quite consistent in suggesting that the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution had no discernible impact on the voting behavior of their senators. (The point estimates are actually negative, but in every case the standard error is large enough to make it quite plausible that the true effect is zero.)…

The apparent responsiveness of senators to the views of high-income constituents was even greater, despite their somewhat smaller numbers; the pooled parameter estimate of 4.15 implies a shift of .39 in a senator’s W-NOMINATE score in response to an equivalent shift in high-income constituency opinion.

These results imply that responsiveness to the views of middle- and high-income constituents account for significant variation in senators’ voting behavior — but that the views of low-income constituents were utterly irrelevant

The roughly linear increase in apparent responsiveness across the three income groups, with those in the bottom third getting no weight and those in the middle and top thirds getting substantial weight, suggests that the modern Senate comes a good deal closer to equal representation of incomes than to equal representation of citizens

The results for the vote on raising the minimum wage reflect the political plight of poor constituents in especially poignant form. Those results suggest that senators attached no weight at all to the views of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution — the constituents whose economic interests were obviously most directly at stake — even as they voted to approve a minimum wage increase.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at October 20, 2010 02:36 PM
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