Congress Really, Truly Doesn’t Care About the Middle Class

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Martin Gilens has done some very interesting work on the way that politicians respond to public opinion, and his key result is that Congress doesn’t really care much about the poor (no surprise) and cares only modestly about the middle class (a bit of a surprise). What they care about are the upper middle class and the rich.

Today he puts up a chart that gives this result a bit more nuance. The blue bars represent middle-income voters, and during election years they have a moderate amount of influence. Not as much as the well-off, but when an election is imminent politicians pay at least some attention to the preferences of the middle class (and, to a smaller extent, the poor).

So when do the rich get their payoff? Answer: during non-election years, when no one is paying attention. In those years, members of Congress respond solely to the preferences of the well-off. What’s more, laws passed during non-election years are more durable:

The hopeful side of this observation is that democratic institutions do work, to an extent, to discipline policymakers and bring policy outcomes more in line with the public’s desires. But these periods of heightened responsiveness are the exception, not the rule, and it appears that policies “forced” on decision makers by political circumstances fare less well over time than those adopted under less “coercive” conditions. Although policies adopted during presidential election years are more consistent with public preferences, they are also more likely to lose funding over time than are policies adopted in other years of the quadrennial election cycle.

To summarize: In election years we throw a few sops to the 90%. During non-election years, we cut back the funding for those sops and pass the legislation that the top 10% want passed. Welcome to America.

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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