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15-04-2024 | Original Paper

Divided by Income? Policy Preferences of the Rich and Poor Within the Democratic and Republican Parties

Authors: Michael Auslen, Justin H. Phillips

Published in: Political Behavior

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Abstract

Research consistently demonstrates that differences between the policy preferences of high- and low-income individuals are surprisingly small, at least at the aggregate level. We depart from this work by considering the size of income-based differences in opinion within political parties. To do so, we use responses to 144 policy-specific questions in the 2010–2020 Cooperative Election Study (CES). Our effort demonstrates that differences in opinion among the rich and poor tend to be larger within the parties than in the overall population. Interestingly, these gaps are largest among Democrats. We find that these larger gaps persist even after accounting for the party’s racial and ethnic diversity. Furthermore, among Democrats, class-based gaps in opinion are larger than the gaps we observe among other potential intraparty cleavages, such as age, gender, and religiosity. Our results suggest important implications for the growing literature on representational inequality.

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Appendix
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Footnotes
1
For example, because of these high correlations, Gilens (2015) focuses much of his empirical analysis on the subset of policies for which there is at least 10-percentage-point gap between the preferences of the top and bottom income deciles or the top and middle deciles.
 
2
The scope of the Maks-Solomon and Rigby analysis is more modest than our analyses here. Their conclusions are based on survey data of 11 economic issues and 7 social issues.
 
3
Likewise, the top decile in 2020 includes all 1,431 respondents with incomes above $150,000, plus a sample of 2,129 of the 3,560 respondents with incomes between $120,000 and $149,999. On average, each decile includes 6,067 people.
 
4
Of the four partisan subgroups we analyze, high-income Democrats most frequently take the position consistent with their partisanship, doing so 77% of the time. By comparison, rich Republicans hold ideologically consistent views 64% of the time, low-income Democrats do 65% of the time, and low-income Republicans 56% of the time. In Online Appendix F we present data on consistency.
 
5
Alternatively, we could simply identify all issues for which rich and poor opinion lies on opposite sides of the 50% threshold (ignoring the size of the opinion gap). The problem with doing so is that an issue supported by 51% of the rich, but only 49% of the poor would be counted as a disagreement. We, however, are reluctant to imbue this small difference in opinion with much meaning.
 
6
We also consider the expectation, from Gelman et al. (2008), that partisan divides in part stem from Democrats living in richer states. In Online Appendix D, we show that opinion gaps look similar for partisans living in the 25 states with the highest median household income and those with the lowest. The opinion gap for Republicans in the richest states is 0.115, compared to 0.106 in poor states; for both rich-state and poor-state Democrats, it is 0.144.
 
7
Our main measure of opinion gaps above are equivalent to using the coefficient from a linear regression of opinion on high-income without any controls; our approach in this section closely mirrors that analysis.
 
8
These differences are statistically significant. In Online Appendix C, we plot these estimates with 95% confidence intervals produced by bootstrapping.
 
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Metadata
Title
Divided by Income? Policy Preferences of the Rich and Poor Within the Democratic and Republican Parties
Authors
Michael Auslen
Justin H. Phillips
Publication date
15-04-2024
Publisher
Springer US
Published in
Political Behavior
Print ISSN: 0190-9320
Electronic ISSN: 1573-6687
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-024-09927-9

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