Some Notes on Measures of Political Inequality

Unlike economic inequality, a standard measure of political inequality has yet to arise from the sociological and political science disciplines.  It is dfficult to understand why, other than political resources are more abstract than income, wealth, and other measures of economic resources.  Measures of democracy are not the same as political inequality; level of democracy, or political system, is the context in which political resources are distributed and used.  An interesting measure of democracy is the Everyday Democracy Index, which can be examined here.  One of the author’s blog, Divided Democracy by Paul Skidmore, also notes the difficulty in measuring political inequality.  Skidmore read some of the same source material that I did, and independently, I have a similar vision of how such a measure could be constructed:

One is the idea of using the correlation between income and activism as a summary indicator of political equality that can be compared across countries…

The idea is that activism is a political resource, like income is an economic one.  If income is predictor of activism (as is class, and other disadvantaged group indicators), which most studies find that it is, then income has to be considered as a correlate but not equivalent measure of political resources.  Understanding the relationship between personal economic resources and personal political resources ma be dificult if income is part of the measure of political resources.

How have others measured political inequality?

Acemoglu et al (2007) measure political inequality at the local level with the following equation:

 equation for political inequality at the local level

This is a political concentration measure, which is, in a sense, a ratio score.

Griffin and Griffin and Newman measure political inequality as influence.   They examine different groups and their influence on representatives:

We focus on Senators’ roll call votes, but appreciate that these are just one of the important ways legislators represent racial groups (e.g., Canon 1999; Tate 2003). To determine the responsiveness of Senators’ votes to whites’ and African Americans’ preferences, we model each Senator’s votes as a function of his or her mean white and mean African American constituents’ opinions.



Anderson and Beramendi (2005) attempt a cross-national examination of the relationship between political and economic inequality, where political ineuality is measured by vote turnout.

Our individual-level data come from surveys collected as part of the World Values Surveys (WVS) in 1999-2001 (ICPSR Study No. 3975). The 18 countries that provided most important survey items and that had a sufficient number of cases for multivariate analysis are drawn from the OECD countries… The individual level dependent variable investigated in this study is vote intention

(turnout). Turnout is a variable that has been used widely in research on political behavior for a variety of purposes.

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