Has Growing Income Inequality Polarized the American Electorate? Class, Party, and Ideological Polarization*




We investigate whether growing income inequality has heightened differences in economic interests between “the haves” and “the have nots” and if this class polarization has increased ideological polarization in the electorate.


We examine the trend in ideological orientation among low- and high-income voters from 1972 to 2008.


While both income inequality and ideological polarization have increased in recent years, this analysis indicates that the growth in ideological polarization is not the result of growing income inequality. The well-off have not become significantly more conservative and less liberal nor have those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder become significantly more liberal and less conservative.


The analysis indicates that ideological polarization is the result of the increased polarization of the political parties, not class polarization.