Government of the People, by the Elite, for the Rich Unequal Responsiveness in an Unlikely Case

Author
Lea Elsässer
Content Type
Commentary and Analysis
Institution
Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies
Abstract
Empirical studies have shown that US politics is heavily tilted in favor of the better-off, as political decisions tend to reflect the preferences of the rich while largely ignoring those of the poor and the middle classes. These findings have prompted a lively debate about potential mechanisms that cause this pattern of unequal responsiveness. Existing studies suggest that specific characteristics of the political system are a major explanatory factor – in particular, private donations and campaign financing. We build on these studies but focus for the first time on an entirely different case. In this paper, we ask whether similar patterns of unequal responsiveness are discernible in Germany, which not only is a more egalitarian country, but also funds election campaigns entirely differently from the US. We analyze an original dataset of more than 800 survey questions posed between 1980 and 2013. The questions deal with specific political decisions debated at the time and cover a broad range of politically relevant topics. Our results show a notable association between political decisions and the opinions of the rich, but none or even a negative association for the poor. Representational inequality in Germany thus resembles the findings for the US case, despite its different institutional setting. Against this background, we conclude by discussing potential mechanisms of unequal responsiveness
Topic
International Political Economy, Hegemony
Political Geography
America