Saxton: Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant in Political Science: Representation and Political Support in the Face of Inequality

Grants and Contracts Details


This project develops an integrated approach to economic inequality and political support, and answers important questions related to political representation in democracies. It asks: How does inequality, and subsequent evaluations of political support, translate into meaningful representation; What policies do blue-collar and white-collar politicians promote in office to address inequality; and finally, How do inequality and working class representation shape citizens’ evaluations of democracy and the political system? Recent research has shown that high levels of economic inequality are associated with low levels of support for and satisfaction with democracy (Anderson and Singer 2008; Krieckhaus et al. 2014), yet our understanding of this relationship remains incomplete. It is unclear whether citizens blame the government for economic inequality, or which groups of citizens dislike inequality the most. This project argues that people become politically dissatisfied when they view inequality through a lens of distributive unfairness – i.e., unfair outcomes. The extent to which perceptions of inequality map onto perceptions of fairness and political support, however, varies individually by class and political ideology, as well as by country. This project shows that even in a context of inequality, democratic governments can increase political support among citizens by ensuring that economic policies are made via fair and transparent procedures, and that all citizens are given equal voice through representation. First, using cross-national survey data from 18 Latin American countries, I show that on average, citizens are less likely to be satisfied with the way democracy works when they perceive their country’s income distribution to be unfair. The presence of fair and transparent government procedures, however, ameliorates the negative influence of perceived distributive unfairness. Second, given that evaluations of democracy and representation can be influenced by a number a factors, I rely on survey experiments which I already fielded in the U.S. and will replicate in Mexico, and Argentina to isolate the causal effects of inequality and fairness perceptions on political support, and investigate how these effects are conditional on individuals’ class and political ideology. Third, I conduct in depth interviews with political elites, such as party leaders, rank-and-file members, and sitting politicians in Mexico and Argentina. Consistent with prior research, the initial components of this project focus on public opinion. Elites, however, also play a crucial role in shaping citizens’ attitudes about what is fair and what role the government should play in addressing economic inequality. Prior research suggests that Latin American politicians face a tradeoff between providing clientelistic and programmatic policies to their constituents. Whereas research on working class representation shows that blue-collar politicians bring different economic attitudes to office and advocate for more statist economic policies (Carnes and Lupu 2015), other research suggests that institutions, rather than class background, structure politicians’ policy goals (Taylor-Robinson 2010). Understanding elites’ perceptions of fairness and inequality, as well as the institutional barriers they face when pursuing their policy priorities, is key to explaining the type of representation that citizens receive in a context of inequality, and hence citizens’ evaluations of representation and democracy.
Effective start/end date8/15/187/31/19


  • National Science Foundation: $21,897.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.