Economic Inequality and Political Participation: Scale Matters

Matthew Schroeder, University of Minnesota

Despite a long tradition arguing that economic inequality depresses levels of political participation, perhaps by inhibiting the trust and social capital on which organized activity depends, recent analyses have suggested that it instead increases participation by generating conflict and outrage that fuel political action. I argue that this contradiction can be resolved by attending to economic segregation, the spatial patterning of economic inequality. Evidence comes from several new measures of economic segregation linked to individual-level data from the 2000 American National Election Study, and results suggest that people participate less where neighborhoods are unequal and where individuals within neighborhoods are socioeconomically similar. That is, economic segregation—the condition of having many homogeneously rich and many homogeneously poor neighborhoods in the same county—lowers rates of political participation. Thus there is no single effect of inequality on political participation; rather, the relationship depends on how people are distributed in geographic space.

  See paper

Presented in Poster Session 2