Economic Segregation and Unequal Policy Responsiveness


As levels of residential economic segregation increase in the United States, politicians may have greater incentives to focus their attention on the demands of those living in wealthier communities at the expense of those living in less affluent areas. To better understand the link between economic context and political representation, we develop a measure of economic segregation at the local level and combine public policy preferences and multiple roll call votes in the House of Representatives over several sessions to measure policy responsiveness. Our empirical analysis presents evidence that, regardless of one’s individual level of income, citizens who live in an area of concentrated affluence are better represented by their Member of Congress. Conversely, citizens who live in an area of concentrated poverty are poorly represented. Importantly, we also show that the disproportionate focus affluent areas receive from congressional campaigns and the disproportionate campaign contributions that flow from those areas are two possible mechanisms that explain the relationship between economic context and political representation. These findings suggest that growing residential economic segregation in the United States has important implications for our understanding of political equality and the responsiveness of elected officials to public opinion.

Political Behavior