Lax, Phillips, and Zelizer 2018

Jeff Lax, Justin Phillips, and I just submitted our first paper in a long-running study of inequality of representation in the US Senate. The current thinking is that the affluent “buy off” senators’ votes, that high-income voters are represented much more frequently in roll call voting than low-income voters. We find that story to be overstated. Senators do side with high-income constituents more often than they do with low-income constituents, but the difference is not particularly large. Changing a few dozen votes from our sample of nearly 5,000 roll call votes would make up the difference.

This distortion in favor of the rich occurs mostly among Republican senators (big surprise). Even then, Republican senators side with high-income voters almost exclusively when their opinion matches that of Republican constituents. Both parties’ senators overwhelmingly represent their partisan constituents, far more than they over-represent high-income voters.

Despite having never turned a page of the books, I particularly like Jeff’s summary of our findings of parties’ role in the affluent influence debate:

“Telling the story [of biased roll call voting] in terms of the rich and not party would be like telling the story of Harry Potter against Voldemort, talking only about Ron.”

I hope that line makes it through review.

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