Income Inequality and Policy Responsiveness

Posted: 12 May 2015

See all articles by Robert S. Erikson

Robert S. Erikson

Columbia University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: May 2015


The growing concern about economic inequality leads to a similar concern about political inequality. This article explores the seeming contradiction between the literature pointing to inequality in political representation in the United States and the literature showing that public policy does tend to represent public opinion in general. Low-income voters are much less likely to vote or to be politically knowledgeable than high-income voters, which limits their influence and creates an upper-income bias to effective public opinion. Considerable research suggests that low-income voters' opinions count for even less than would be implied by their low participation rate, a matter that should continue to be the subject of research. Seemingly contrary to any upper-income bias to policy making, major legislation usually moves policy in the direction favored by low-income voters (e.g., redistribution, government programs). Upper-income voters and interest groups, however, are able to slow the pace of liberal change.

Suggested Citation

Erikson, Robert S., Income Inequality and Policy Responsiveness (May 2015). Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 18, pp. 11-29, 2015, Available at SSRN: or

Robert S. Erikson (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Department of Political Science ( email )

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