How Inequality in Communication to Congress Perpetuates Political Inequality: Evidence from Administrative Data on Contact with Congressional Offices

Awarded Scholars:
David Broockman, University of California, Berkeley
Leah Stokes, University of California, Santa Barbara
Matto Mildenberger, University of California, Santa Barbara
Project Date:
Jan 2021
Award Amount:
$158,250

Research shows that the federal government often privileges the interests of affluent Americans and businesses over those of ordinary Americans. When government enacts legislation that benefits the privileged, it often exacerbates existing economic inequalities. Why the wealthy and organized business groups are more likely to get their way from government remains unclear. In this research project, political scientist David Broockman and his colleagues will investigate a potential cause of unequal representation, tracing unequal policy outcomes back to legislators’ and their staff’s perceptions of the public. They will examine the contact between constituents and their legislators’ offices that informs these perceptions, and the political and demographic patterns that produce the contact legislators receive. Using a unique data source, the investigators will examine questions about (1) who contacts Congress and how their demographic characteristics compare to constituents as a whole, (2) the issues and positions that garner the most contact to Congress from groups and individuals, (3) the role of organized interest groups in mobilizing contactors, (4) the discrepancies between what Congress hears compared to public opinion, and (5) whether biased contacting behavior can explain misperceptions of public opinion among members of Congress (MOCs) and their staffs.

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