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Political Parties and Representation of the Poor in the American States


  • The authors are grateful to the Russell Sage Foundation and the National Science Foundation for their financial support as well as to Project Vote Smart for providing us with data from their NPAT survey of candidates. Earlier versions of this article received critical feedback and helpful guidance from Michael Berkman, Ernesto Calvo, and Eric Plutzer and from many anonymous reviewers, as well as participants at the 2007 APSA Conference, 2008 State Politics and Policy Conference, and the Summer 2010 Russell Sage Foundation Working Group on the Politics of Inequality. The authors are responsible for any errors or for the interpretations presented. The data used in this study are stored on the AJPS Data Archive on Dataverse, available at


Motivated by recent work suggesting that low-income citizens are virtually ignored in the American policymaking process, this article asks whether a similar bias shapes the policy positions adopted by political parties much earlier in the policymaking process. While the normative hope is that parties serve as linkage institutions enhancing representation of those with fewer resources to organize, the resource-dependent campaign environment in which parties operate provides incentives to appeal to citizens with the greatest resources. Using newly developed measures of state party positions, we examine whether low-income preferences get incorporated in parties’ campaign appeals at this early stage in the policymaking process—finding little evidence that they do. This differential responsiveness was most pronounced for Democratic parties in states with greater income inequality; it was least evident for Republicans’ social policy platforms. We discuss the implications of these findings for representation in this era of growing economic inequality.