Income and Policy Influence

This week I stumbled onto a sizable collection of slides on inequality compiled by Stanford University. The whole package (89 slides) packs quite a bit of information so I imagine I’ll be trotting them out over time as it relates to other things, but as I’m a sucker for such knowledge in graph form that shouldn’t be too surprising. Among the many categories present I was initially very interested in this one:

Awhile back I wrote a post on low-income voting tendencies that showcased much the same information. In short, voter participation increases with income. As the above graph shows it also includes greater contributions to campaigns (more than just monetary), protesting (although, really, there’s very little of that going on relative to other activities), and political organizational affiliation.

My post focused on a Pew poll showing economic concerns by household income:

What I wrote later was an off-handed observation of the outcome of how income influences policy direction in this country:

This is intriguing because for 2010 and much of 2011 the primary messaging coming from Washington – by both political parties – was the dire need to address the chief concern of wealthier Americans and not so much about jobs or unemployment.

But I think these two Stanford slides better illustrates this point:

Of course we often hear about the influence of money in politics, and given the amount of time and space dedicated to the subject strangers might think that’s the only part of political engagement that counts. Given the apparent correlation between income-related economic concerns and policy direction I can understand the need for such attention, yet as the first graph of this post goes to show it isn’t just about monetary contributions – or even my chosen focus of voting. It also involves phone calls and letters, engagement (including a little bit of protesting), and the types organizational affiliation that lets us know we’re not alone in wanting to induce the type of change we wish to see.

I’ll end this note with an anecdote about one of my professors I’ve used before on this subject:

She received her grad education in the United States, came from a stable middle-class background, and given the subject of the course – global cities – often spoke of urban issues in her native country. The most impactful point she made occurred when I asked her a question about the organization of slums in India – specifically, if they were technically illegal and occupying increasingly valuable land targeting by moneyed development interests, what was stopping the authorities from simply clearing out the slums? My professor answered: “Because the people living in those slums organize effectively, and more importantly, vote effectively.”


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