Data on Economic Inequality and Political Representation
Political equality is one of the basic tenants of democracy. However, although it may never be possible to achieve complete political equality, rising economic inequality in the U.S. threatens to create a political system in which the voices of the wealthy drown out those of the poor and middle class. Martin Gilens explored this phenomenon in his 2012 RSF/Princeton book Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America. Gilens found that policy outcomes are more strongly related to the preferences of the wealthy than the poor or middle class. In fact, this relationship is so strong that when the preferences of the middle and lower classes diverge from those of the wealthy, there is almost no correlation between policy outcomes and the desires of these less advantaged groups. While higher income Americans are more likely to vote, participate in political organizations, and contact their representatives, the only political action that strongly differentiates them from both the poor and middle class is political donations.
While conducting this research, Gilens developed a dataset of over 2,000 survey questions about specific proposed policy changes (1964-2006). The policy preferences explored in the dataset range from raising the minimum wage to restrictions on abortion to sending troops to Bosnia. The degree of support for each of these proposed changes expressed by individuals in different income groups was then related to the subsequent policy outcomes.
Now that his analysis is complete, Gilens will make this data available to other researchers. Making this data public will allow other researchers to conduct further analysis, as well as add additional years or new information to the data set. The data currently consist of multiple datasets with ad hoc fixes for errors encountered while Gilens was working with the data. In order to make the dataset usable to other researchers, Gilens will clean and restructure it, delete redundant variables and generate variable labels. He will also complete calculations on education, merge interest group alignment data with the core datasets, recode or recombine questions, and merge the text descriptions of the 19 broad subject areas and the 307 policy topics into the data set so that future users can evaluate the coding scheme. Finally, all of the cleaned data will be posted on Gilens’ website for public use.