Rich Man, Poor Man, Politician Man: Wealth Effects in a Candidate Biography Survey Experiment

Authors

  • Rosie Campbell,

  • Philip Cowley


Research Highlights and Abstract

  • We show that voters are sensitive to the relative wealth of election candidates.
  • As candidates' earnings increase, so their popularity declines.
  • Wealth is an especial negative for women, for working class respondents and for Labour and Lib Dem respondents.
  • Conservative respondents are less put off by wealthy candidates, although they draw a sharper distinction between the source of income than others.

This article reports the findings from an Internet survey experiment designed to investigate the British public's reactions to wealthy (or not so wealthy) candidates. We applied two experimental manipulations, one to wealth and the other to occupation. We varied occupation and the amount that the candidates earned each year. We found that voters preferred self-made businessmen to financiers, but that regardless of occupation they reacted negatively to financial success. We discovered heterogeneity in responses, with women, working class and Labour and Lib Dem respondents being especially hostile to increases in income. Conservative respondents were less put off by wealthy candidates, although they drew a sharper distinction between the source of income than did others. The experiments provide support for the identity politics claim that voters want a representative who is ‘like them’; and suggest that political scientists should pay more attention to the representation of wealth and social class.

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