Political Context, Government Redistribution, and the Public's Response to Growing Economic Inequality


While most Americans appear to acknowledge the large gap between the rich and the poor in the United States, it is not clear how the public has responded to recent changes in income inequality. The goal of this study is to make sense of several existing, and at times conflicting, perspectives on how changes in inequality affect public preferences for government action, by demonstrating that each of these perspectives can simultaneously coexist in a logical manner. The argument put forward here is that growing inequality systematically shapes preferences for redistribution in different ways, depending on two important factors: economic context and the type of redistribution being considered. Using time-series cross-sectional data covering over three decades and all 50 states, the findings show that context does affect the degree of the public’s response to inequality and that support for action is stronger for particular types of redistributive policy.

The Journal of Politics