The basics of modern life — job, education, and income — can shape our interest in politics, our desire to discuss politics with others, and our decision to vote. In the parlance of social science, occupation and socioeconomic status may impact “political engagement.”
We politically engage, or not, during an age of rising economic inequality.
Economic inequality matters. It chastens social mobility: the rich stay rich and the poor have extreme difficulty, especially in hard times, to climb up the social ladder.
Economic inequality is something you can see. You can see somebody driving down the street in a car that you can’t afford. You can walk the city and gape at the rich neighborhoods. The economic “gap” can stimulate or irritate; it is something you feel.
Frederick Solt, now an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa, thought that the economic inequality all around us influences our socioeconomic situation which, in turn, influences our political engagement.
This is a story of two of Fred Solt’s research articles on how political voice fares in an age of rising economic inequality.
The Theories of Engagement
If economic inequality touches so many areas of modern life, then, he reasoned, it must also play a role in whether people care about politics and show up to the voting booth. But how can inequality – that there are rich and poor and that there is a large gap between them – influence political engagement?
Solt consulted the literature on politics and inequality and sorted through the explanations, old and new. He read Moore, Dahl, Brady, Schlozman, and Verba. He read de Tocqueville, Schattschneider, Rueschemeyer, Stephens, and Stephens, Lijphart, and Lukes.
He built on their work and devised three main theories.
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