According to research findings in the October issue of the American Journal of Political Science, as the American income inequality becomes greater, low income homes become more politically conservative. “It’s a bit of a conundrum,” says Peter Enns, assistant professor of government at Cornell University.
“As inequality rose, the high- and low-income respondents on average become less supportive of spending on welfare,” Enns said. “And this is not because low-income people are unaware of inequality; our results show they are more aware of it than most people.”
“We broke down pubic opinion by income group and found the high- and low-income groups responding in a similar way, both becoming more conservative when inequality rises,” Enns said. “We were very surprised to observe that the self-reinforcing aspect of inequality holds for high- and low-income groups, and how they move together in parallel over time.”
The research was conducted by Enns and Nathan Kelly of the University of Tennessee. Although these result seem highly counterintuitive, perhaps they could help us understand why anyone making less than six-figures would ever vote Republican. Even as the richest 1 percent now take home almost 24 percent of American income, Americans vote against their self-interest. In 1976, that same top 1 percent accounted for only 9 percent of the total income. And, Republican congressional leaders seem poised to once again succeed in extending the Bush tax cuts for those same wealthiest Americans.
One hypothesis the researchers hope to pursue is that the public is following how media talks about household income inequality and how it relates to government, as opposed to inequality itself. The study was supported by the National Science Foundation. Enns and Kelly are working on a proposal to follow-up with additional research.
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Cornell University ChronicleOnline
Nicholas D. Kristof: Our Banana Republic