New study: Plutocrats like Paul Ryan often vote for the agenda of the wealthy | Wis.Community

New study: Plutocrats like Paul Ryan often vote for the agenda of the wealthy

[img_assist|nid=46026|title=Air campaign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=190|height=127]The Center for Responsive Politics says the average US senator has a $13 million personal fortune. Meanwhile, members of the House of Representatives average close to $5 million -- and here in Wisconsin, GOP Rep. Paul (Taxing The Rich is Class Warfare) Ryan is among the millionaires. Does that wealth matter when it comes to how these legislators vote? Short answer, which won't surprise progressives one bit: Yes, and a lot. Rich legislators tend to vote for measures that benefit rich Americans.

Duke University political scientist Nicholas Carnes put the issue to statistical analysis in a study matching members of Congress, their class backgrounds, and their votes in the near-century between 1901 and 1996.

The key finding of the research: If Congress had a class (i.e., wealth) composition that matched the total American population, lawmakers would pass “one to three more major progressive economic policies” every two years. John Sides, a George Washington University political scientist writing for the New York Times' "Five Thirty Eight" blog, took that information and ran with it.

Prof. Carnes estimates that the gap between representatives who entered Congress as workers and those who entered as businesspeople is approximately 10 points on a 100-point scale, Sides wrote. He added:  

A measure of voting behavior, scores awarded by the A.F.L.-C.I.O., showed even larger occupational disparities.  On a 0-100 scale where 0 indicates preferences closer to the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s, workers scored about 20 on average, while service-based professionals scored about 35 and businesspeople about 55.

Furthermore, these disparities were largely stable across decades and are apparent among many subgroups of legislators — Democrats, Republicans, men, women, representatives in safe seats and swing seats, representatives who represent larger and smaller numbers of working-class people, and so forth ... .

In Larry Bartels’ book "Unequal Democracy," he finds that the voting behavior of senators is much more closely tied to the views of their upper-class constituents than their middle-class or working-class ones.  One reason could be that upper-class people are more likely to vote, donate to politicians and contact them to express their opinions.  But Mr. Bartels’s results persist even when controlling for the views of actual voters and those who have contacted their representatives.  Mr. Carnes’s findings suggest another explanation: members of Congress vote as upper-class people would want them to because members of Congress tend to be upper class themselves.

Increasing the representation of lower and working classes in Congress is no easy feat.  As Mr. Carnes notes, their underrepresentation precedes the growth of campaign spending and existed when parties largely controlled the nominations process and when they had less influence.  But here is one possibility.  The literature on the underrepresentation of women in political office centers on their lack of political ambition and the failure of political elites to recruit them.  It may be time to study the underrepresentation of certain social classes in the same way.

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September 20, 2011 - 10:05am