How the Supply of Economic Policy Proposals Shapes Public Demand for Redistribution

Hughes, Adam, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Sanders, Lynn, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Winter, Nicholas, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

Despite the fact that many Americans experience privation and economic insecurity, public support for redistribution is muted. Many Americans do not possess accurate factual information about the economy and inequality, and most do not understand estate taxes and other redistributive policies. I argue that American opposition to redistribution is rooted in a failure of political imagination: Americans are unlikely to support redistributive policies when elected officials rarely discuss them, when the issues are difficult to interpret, and when proposed policies appear implausible. I define redistributive policy as any state action that changes the distribution of economic resources between the rich and poor. I further distinguish direct redistributive policies, such as the minimum wage, means-tested social spending, and the estate tax, from indirect forms of redistribution, such as job creation incentives and business-friendly corporate tax policy. Using public opinion surveys, survey experiments, and observational data, I examine the relationship between political representations of economic issues, cognitive representations of economic policies, economic reality, and political action. I show that redistributive opinion is especially malleable, but also that political actors rarely propose direct redistributive policies in the first place. When elected officials and political candidates do propose indirect, market-oriented economic interventions, individuals faced with high levels of economic insecurity in their local communities are unlikely to participate in elections or support the interventions.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
public opinion, political behavior, political communication
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