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Political Polarization and Income Inequality

By Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal. Reading for week of December 2, 2003

Leah Halvorson Email LeahHalvorson


Since the early 1970s, American society has undergone two important parallel transformations, one political and one economic. Following a period with mild partisan divisions, post-1970s politics is increasingly characterized by an ideologically polarized party system. Similarly, the 1970s mark an end to several decades of increasing economic equality and the beginning of a trend towards greater inequality of wealth and income. While the literature on comparative political economy has focused on the links between economic inequality and political conflict, the relationship between these trends in the United States remains essentially unexplored. We explore the relationship between voter partisanship and income from 1956 to 1996. We find that over this period of time partisanship has become more stratified by income. We argue that this trend is the consequence both of polarization of the parties on economic issues and increased economic inequality.

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