Economic Inequality and Democratic Political Engagement


  • Frederick Solt is assistant professor of political science, Southern IL University, Mailstop 4501, Carbondale, IL 62901 (

I am grateful to Stephen Bloom, Mariola Espinosa, Philip Habel, Jonathan Hartlyn, Evelyne Huber, Christine Lipsmeyer, Lanny Martin, Scott McClurg, Celeste Montoya, Marco Steenbergen, John Stephens, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this work.


What effect, if any, does the extent of economic inequality in a country have upon the political engagement of its citizens? This study examines this question using data from multiple cross-national surveys of the advanced industrial democracies. It tests the theory that greater inequality increases the relative power of the wealthy to shape politics in their own favor against rival arguments that focus on the effects of inequality on citizens' objective interests or the resources they have available for political engagement. The analysis demonstrates that higher levels of income inequality powerfully depress political interest, the frequency of political discussion, and participation in elections among all but the most affluent citizens, providing compelling evidence that greater economic inequality yields greater political inequality.