The Many Definitions of Political Inequality

Statue of Liberty Reading about political equality

What is the definition of political inequality?

Political inequality is worrisome for the future of democracy. Unequal access to political decision-makers means that the political voice of the few is louder than the political voice of the many.

But how can we define political inequality?

In my book published by Routledge, I defined political inequality as structured differences in influence over decisions made by political bodies and the unequal outcomes of those decisions.

That’s the short answer. But you should know that there are many definitions of political inequality. In this post, I discuss these many definitions.

I examine several definitions of political inequality that are in the literature. I end the section with an interdisciplinary definition that can be applied across a variety of social and political systems.

Table of Contents

  1. What is the definition of political inequality?
    1. Political Equality of Opportunities vs. Political Equality of Outcomes
    2. The Distributional Approach to the Definition of Political Inequality
      1. Problems with the Distributional Approach
    3. The Interdependency Approach to the Definition of Political Inequality
      1. Problems with the Interdependency Approach
    4. Sorokin’s Authority Approach to the Definition of Political Inequality
      1. Problems with Sorokin’s Approach
    5. The Dahl and Lindblom Approach to the Definition of Political Inequality
    6. The Outcomes Only Approach to the Definition of Inequality
    7. Problems with Dahl and Lindblom and the Outcomes Only Approaches
    8. A Better Definition of Political Inequality
      1. We can combine the Dahl and Lindblom with the Outcomes Only approach to create a better definition of political inequality: political inequality refers to structured differences in influence over decisions made by political bodies and the unequal outcomes of those decisions.
    9. Conclusion: Is Political Equality Real?

Political Equality of Opportunities vs. Political Equality of Outcomes

Most definitions can be traced to the distinction made in the classic social stratification literature on equality of opportunities versus equality of outcomes (Kerbo 2003: Chapter One; see also the philosophical literature, e.g. Ware 1981: 393; Baynes 2008: 15; and Roemer 1998: 1-2).

Equality of opportunities is about access to the political decision. Equality of outcomes refers to the law, symbols, policy or other output that is the result of the political process. Most definitions are based on the idea of equality of opportunities, but they could be modified to include outcomes, as well.

The Distributional Approach to the Definition of Political Inequality

A popular definition usually posited in terms of equality of opportunities is what I call the “distributional approach:” political inequality is structured differences in the distribution of political resources. According to this definition, one group has greater or lesser access to or acquisition of political resources than another group (Ware 1981: 393-4; Wall 2007: 416 ).

Many years ago, Max Weber (1946) argued that the tripartite scheme of class, status and party is but “phenomena of the distribution of power within a community” (181). The distributional approach is reflected in the 1996 American Political Science Association presidential address, in which Lijphart warned that “the inequality in representation and influence are not randomly distributed but systematically biased in favor of more privileged citizens” (1997: 1).

Problems with the Distributional Approach

The notion of “political resources” is an appealing analogy to economic resources, yet it presents dilemmas for concept and measurement.

A primary issue is that political resources are anything one can use to influence a political decision. Moreover, the means of wielding these resources varies by level – individual, group, organization or country – and by context. Some simplify by equating material resources in modern democracies – money, most of all – with political power (Winters and Page 2009; Brady 2009: 98 – 99). This is problematic, as social scientists have long argued that political resources are context-dependent and therefore can be more than just economic.

Weber (1946) viewed power resources of political organizations as almost anything , while Dahl (1996) defines political resources as, literally, “almost anything” – including money, reputation, legal status, social capital and knowledge, to name a few – that has value and can be used to achieve political ends.

Political resources can be drawn from social or psychological factors – material, ideational, a personal attribute, a group level attribute, an authority position, a network connection – or an action, such as political participation (Dahl 1996; Yamokoski and Dubrow 2008; Wall 2007: 418; for an exhaustive review of the political resources literature, see Piven and Cloward 2005: 38 – 40).

Identifying the mechanism by which political resources are distributed poses further dilemmas. Who distributes these resources? Is distribution done in the same manner across all political interactions and if not, by what rules does it vary? And, if political resources can be distributed, does the “distributor” hoard all of the resources that are important for the political interaction, or are there some resources that are beyond the hoarder’s control? We face these dilemmas when we strictly define political inequality as a matter of distribution.

The Interdependency Approach to the Definition of Political Inequality

An interdependency approach, as inspired by Piven and Cloward (2005), poses a way out of the dilemma by regarding political inequality as outcome of a relational process — and not merely distributional one — between opposing political actors. Key to the interdependency approach, political influence is found in the range of actions an actor can take within a political interaction.

Piven and Cloward (2005) argue that even apparently powerless actors actually have great potential for political influence, which turns the drawback of the distributional approach into a strength: “from this perspective, power resources are the attributes or things that one actor can use to coerce or induce another actor… almost everyone has something that can be used to influence somebody” (37).

In the interdependency approach, political power is inherently relational and resources are replaced with potential actions. Still, similarly to the distributional approach, actions used to influence governments and other political decision-makers are context-dependent: they must be appropriate to the task at hand; characteristics of the relationship between the interacting groups reveal possible (political power) actions.

The interdependency approach circumvents the problematic assumptions of (a) a hypothetical cache of ready-for-use political resources, and (b) a mechanism of resource distribution that is external to the interaction.

Problems with the Interdependency Approach

The interdependency approach has its own shortcomings.

For one, it does not account well for the use of physical force, a powerful resource that the state wields in any political interaction. This leads to the other troublesome assumption that all sides in a political skirmish have equal potential for political gain. The interdependency approach assumes equality of political opportunities. Yet, when the state wields physical force, or at least threatens it, the interactions appear to be imbalanced.

Sorokin’s Authority Approach to the Definition of Political Inequality

Sorokin’s sociological definition is similar but simpler, in that its main criterion focuses solely on the structure of the political process (1959 [1927]): Political inequality is the existence of authority divisions. Here, we speak of political inequality when groups have unequal political input into the decisions that affect them. Sorokin’s definition implies that the hierarchical structure of authority matters for the magnitude of political inequality, in that the more layers of authority between the citizen and the decision, the greater the political inequality. Growth in political complexity exacerbates this inequality: More people mean more diverse interests, demands and services and thus greater complexity of state organization (echoing Weber’s theory of inexorable bureaucratization).

Problems with Sorokin’s Approach

Sorokin’s political stratification may be simple but its implication for eliminating political inequality is troublesome: Only in a landscape without authority divisions whatsoever would all groups would have equal say in legislation and policy. As Sorokin himself admits, not even in hunter-gatherer societies do we find that political world is flat, let alone in modern ones (69).

The Dahl and Lindblom Approach to the Definition of Political Inequality

Let us consider another definition rooted in the idea of equality of opportunities that is popular in political science and philosophy. Paraphrased from Dahl and Lindblom (1953: 4), political equality is when everybody’s preferences are equally weighted in political decisions (see also Verba 2003: 663; Ware 1981: 393; Agne 2006: 433-4; and Baynes 2008:9 ).

In this definition, political inequality is unequal weight in influence over political decisions. The definition of “everybody” matters, of course: Everybody could mean all citizens, or it could mean all who are potentially impacted by the decision. As Agne (2006) put it, “it is often assumed that democracy requires that the people affected by a decision should be able to participate in making it” (433). Agne (2006) makes a strong case that this standard is hard to implement at higher levels of aggregation, such as regional or global governance, and should be replaced with different formulations of autonomy and freedom from dominance (for a summary, see p. 453; on rights to political equality at different levels of administrative aggregation, see also Bohman (1999: 500 – 503)).

The Outcomes Only Approach to the Definition of Inequality

Other definitions shift the focus from opportunities to benefits, such that political equality is when outcomes are equal (Griffin and Newman 2008: 6-7, Chapter Two). Ware (1981: 401 – 406) makes the case for considering political outcomes when evaluating the extent to which a democracy is politically unequal. Democracy theorists and philosophers argue whether we need to distribute these benefits equally, or whether some should get more than others because of their historically marginalized status (in discussing the American experience, Griffin and Newman (2008) call this the race-conscious egalitarian standard). What this means for the study of political inequality is that the response side of the political process is as important to think about as the voice side. In this case, political inequality is the extent of structured differences in the outcomes of government decisions.

Problems with Dahl and Lindblom and the Outcomes Only Approaches

These definitions lead us to a critical question: What is equal in political equality? Is it equal voice or equal response? Is it equal opportunities or equal outcomes? If it is equal opportunities for voice, then political philosophers such as Rawls (1971), Ware (1981), Sen (1999) and Baynes (2008) point to an important element of the distribution of political resources. Being that political equality is tied not only to political rights, but also to political liberties, i.e. the freedom to engage in political processes, and we need to consider (a) those who, through brute luck (Baynes 2008: 2) or social misfortunes are not equally endowed with the resources to influence politics in the same way as others, and (b) those who simply choose not to engage politically (see also Verba’s 1999: 247-248 distinction between “they can’t,” “they don’t want to,” and “nobody asked”).

A Better Definition of Political Inequality

We can fashion an alternative definition rooted in inequality of opportunities if we merge Dahl and Lindblom’s and Piven and Cloward’s insights with Sorokin’s: Political inequality is the extent of structured differences in influence over government decisions. Here, individuals, groups and organizations are defined by how much political influence they can exert (i.e. their potential of political influence). This view does not preclude the distribution of political resources; nor does it depend on it. It is the distance between actors and the characteristics of their interaction that shape political influence. Most importantly, this definition explicitly recognizes that political power and influence is rooted in the stratification structure.

We can combine the Dahl and Lindblom with the Outcomes Only approach to create a better definition of political inequality: political inequality refers to structured differences in influence over decisions made by political bodies and the unequal outcomes of those decisions.

Conclusion: Is Political Equality Real?

There is also another question, more philosophical in nature, worth considering: Is political equality “real”, can we achieve it, or is it rather the ideal, theoretical endpoint of the continuum of political influence?

The definitions I presented lead to different answers. From a Sorokin perspective, government is part of the overall political stratification structure. Since government makes decisions, the structure itself is unequal. Therefore, political equality is strictly theoretical.

From a distributional perspective, political power is often thought of as something that the government distributes. If so, both perfect political equality and inequality could be achieved in totalitarian systems where all power concentrates with the elite. Put simply, if the government distributes zero political power to the masses, then everyone outside of government has the same level of political power: Zero. Perfect equality among the masses is achieved and perfect political inequality between masses and elites is also achieved.

The interdependence approach turns this question on its head, as it assumes political equality rather than political inequality. In the interdependence approach, all actors inside and outside of the decision-making body potentially have the same level of influence over the final decision. Political equality can be achieved because in all power situations each actor has potentially equal power to influence the outcome. What looks like political inequality is just wasted potential. We can call this the “liberation narrative:” If political inequality is built through these interactions, it can be un-built through them, thereby liberating the politically weak.

Liberating interactions do not square with most people’s political experience. The mainstay of political life is inequality of influence; reminders that the losers in political interactions have potential for influence, too, do not change the scoreboard. Yet, it is the promise of democracy that the scoreboard can be changed. This promise leads to the idea that political equality and political inequality are dimensions of democracy.

Further Reading

APSA Task Force on Inequality and American Democracy. 2004. American Democracy in an Age of Rising Inequality. http://www.apsanet.org/imgtest/taskforcereport.pdf. (accessed July 4, 2007)

Bachrach, Peter and Morton S. Baratz. 1962. “Two Faces of Power.” American Political Science Review 56(4): 947-952.

Bartels, Larry M. 2010. Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Baynes, Kenneth. 2008. “Democratic Equality and Respect.” Theoria 55 (117): 1-25.

Dahl, R. A. 1996. “Equality versus Inequality.” PS: Political Science and Politics 29(4): 639-648.

Dahl, R. A. 2006. On Political Equality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Dahl, Robert A. and Charles E. Lindblom. 1953. Politics, Economics and Welfare. New York: Harper and Brothers.

Gilens, Martin . 2012. Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Griffin, John D. and Brian Newman. 2008. Minority Report: Evaluating Political Equality in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Liphart, Arend. 1997. “Unequal Participation: Democracy’s Unresolved Dilemma.” American Political Science Review 91(1): 1-14.

Piven, F. F. and R. A. Cloward.  2005.  ‘Rule Making, Rule Breaking, and Power’ pp. 33 – 53 in The Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization edited by Thomas J., R. Alford, A. Hicks, and M. A. Schwartz.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Solt, F.  2008.  ‘Economic Inequality and Democratic Political Engagement.’  American Journal of Political Science 52(1): 48-60. 

Sorokin, P.  1957.  Social and Cultural Mobility.  New York: Free Press. [originally published in 1927]

Vera, Sidney. 2003. “What If the Dream of Participation Turned Out to be a Nightmare?” Perspectives on Politics 1(4): 663-678.

Verba, S, N.H. Nie and J. Kim. 1978. Participation and Political Equality: A Seven-Nation Comparison. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Verba, S.  2006.  “Fairness, Equality and Democracy: Three Big Words.”  Social Research 73(2)499-540.

Wall, Steven. 2007. “Democracy and Equality.” The Philosophical Quarterly 57(228): 416-438.

Ware, A.  1981.  “The Concept of Political Equality: A Post-Dahl Analysis.”  Political Studies 29(3): 393-406. 

Weber, M. 1946. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edited by Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills. New York: Oxford University Press.

Winters, J. A. and B. I. Page.  2009.  “Oligarchy in the United States?”  Perspectives on Politics 7(4): 731 – 751.

Copyright Joshua Dubrow Politicalinequality.org 2022

Gender and Political Inequality in Eastern Europe: Open Access Resources from the POLINQ Project

What is the relationship between gender and political inequality (POLINQ)?

Despite the promises of political equality of the Communist era, and the promises of the post-Communist era, from 1945 to now women in Eastern Europe have endured political inequality.

Political inequality is defined as structured differences in influence over political decisions, and the outcomes of those decisions.

Women have been unequal to men in representation, whether it is fewer parliamentary seats than men, or whether it is in policy.

While much attention on gender and political inequality is about the USA and Western Europe, scholars have paid far less attention to the problem in Eastern Europe. We need updated, open access resources on the problem of gender and political inequality in Eastern Europe.

Scholarship on Gender and Political Inequality in the POLINQ Project

The POLINQ project partnered with scholars from the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, to produce three free & open access resources for activists, NGOs, politicians, students, and scholars to use.

Gender Quotas in Eastern Europe

Gender quotas are rules that aim at providing opportunities for women to be in parliament or to appear on candidate lists in elections for political office. Quota policy should be designed to provide substantial equitable opportunities and access to those decision-makers and their political decisions by the creation of new, favorable circumstances for women to be parliamentarians.

To understand gender quotas in Eastern Europe, the POLINQ project partnered with Dr. Adrianna Zabrzewska on the free, open access book:

Dubrow, Joshua K. and Adrianna Zabrzewska (eds.). 2020. Gender Quotas in the Post-Communist World: Voice of the Parliamentarians. IFiS Publishers.

This book is available on this website and was funded by the National Science Centre, Poland (2016/23/B/HS6/03916)

Gender, Politics and Protest in Eastern Europe

Whereas just and fair democratic societies require gender equality, in Eastern Europe, as well as countries around the world, past and present, gender inequality is the norm.

To achieve equality, we need knowledge of the world, past and present.

The POLINQ project partnered with Adrianna Zabrzewska and Magda Grabowska to create the website:

Women, Politics, and Protest in Central and Eastern Europe

This website provides basic knowledge for high school students and undergraduates, as well as any reader who is unfamiliar with the history and current issues of gender and politics in Eastern Europe. The project tells the story of gender and political change from the rise of Communism, the revolutions of 1989, and on to the present day.

Funding for this website comes from the Title VI Comprehensive National Resource Center grant from the International and Foreign Language Education division of the U.S. Department of Education, awarded to The Ohio State University’s Center for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (CSEEES).

Gender and Protest in Poland over the Abortion Ban

In autumn 2020, as the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic began, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal issued a ruling that severely restricted access to abortion. Massive street protests, led by Strajk Kobiet (Women’s Strike), quickly followed.

To understand this protest movement in Poland, the POLINQ project partnered with Dr. Adrianna Zabrzewska on the free, open access book:

Zabrzewska, Adrianna and Joshua K. Dubrow (eds.). 2022. Gender, Voice, and Violence in Poland: Women’s Protests during the Pandemic. IFiS Publishers.

This book is available on this website and was funded by the National Science Centre, Poland (2016/23/B/HS6/03916)

Strajk Kobiet protest in Poland, 2020

POLINQ: Political Inequality and Political Voice across Nations and Time

What is POLINQ Political Inequality?

POLINQ is an acronym for political inequality, defined as structured differences in political influence and its consequences. POLINQ is also the acronym of the National Science Foundation, Poland funded project (2016/23/B/HS6/03916), which ran from 2017 – 2022, with Joshua K. Dubrow as the Principle Investigator.

POLINQ was housed at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, and featured PhD students from the Graduate School for Social Research.

POLINQ moved forward the study of political inequality across nations and time.


Table of Contents

  1. What is POLINQ Political Inequality?
    1. POLINQ Theoretical Model
      1. Political voice can be defined minimally or maximally
      2. Mechanisms: Elite coordination and mass discoordination
      3. POLINQ, social structure, and social groups
      4. POLINQ, economic inequality, social welfare, and clientelism
    2. Some conclusions of the POLINQ project
    3. Published Results of the POLINQ Project
      1. POLINQ Conceptual and Theoretical Articles
        1. (a) The definition of political voice
        2. (b) The elucidation of the role of economic and political grievances in generating political inequality
        3. (c) Contentious politics and repertoires of action in low-level democracies
        4. (d) The dueling roles of elites and masses in economic redistribution
      2. POLINQ Methodological Articles and Notes
        1. (a) POLINQ explored the potential impact of major economic and political events during survey fieldwork:
        2. (b) POLINQ explored the potential impact of wording of survey items in major cross-national surveys:
        3. (c) POLINQ investigated quantitative problems and solutions in accounting for intersectionality with cross-national surveys, including structural equation modeling and mixed-methods
        4. (d) the local sources of error and bias in cross-national data
      3. POLINQ sources of information and data
        1. (a) Open access sourcebooks on gender and politics:
        2. (b) POLINQ Database:
      4. POLINQ Substantive Findings
        1. (a) Stability of the individual determinants of political participation in Europe across time
        2. (b) Protest under conditions of democratic backsliding
        3. (c) The relationship between economic inequality, policies of economic redistribution, attitudes toward economic redistribution and economic inequality, and protest potential
        4. (d) The relationships between economic inequality, economic and political grievances, and protest
        5. (e) Protest within authoritarian regimes and other un-democratic institutions
      5. POLINQ Guest Edited Issues of International Peer Reviewed Journals
    4. Seminars of the POLINQ Project
    5. Conferences of the POLINQ Project
    6. Training of PhDs and Post-Docs of the POLINQ Project

POLINQ Theoretical Model

POLINQ’s main theoretical elaboration is on the relationships between voice, inequality, and institutions across various regime types and for various social groups.

Political voice can be defined minimally or maximally

Minimally, political voice is the expression of interests within the political system.

Maximally, political voice is (a) participation – verbal, physical, symbolic, monetary, or otherwise – in the political sphere by individuals, organizations, social groups, interest groups, or entire populations in electoral and non-electoral situations. In this maximalist sense, voice is also (b) representation by movements, organizations, or political leaders and other figures. From a voice perspective, representation is someone or something engaged in the expression of interests in the political sphere on behalf of others or to promote an idea.

Political voice’s two main dimensions — participation and representation– appear in different contexts and scholars can study voice from various methodological approaches.

Mechanisms: Elite coordination and mass discoordination

One mechanism is how elites reproduce inequalities, or “elite coordination.” A second mechanism is how social inequalities structure participation and contestation. We call this second mechanism, “mass discoordination.” The two key mechanisms of elite coordination and mass discoordination feed off of each other. The uneven distribution of power resources encourages the elite — who head the democratic institutions and set the rules — to pursue greater concentration; meanwhile, the elite-led institutions that allow such disparities to occur promote roadblocks that either prevent groups from participating, such as in the case of disenfranchised citizens, or discourages collective coordination around shared interests. The masses remain aggrieved yet disorganized.

POLINQ, social structure, and social groups

For everyday citizens, structured gender, economic, and age inequalities, in their intersection, prevent representative politics and political action from producing equality. Representation and participation should empower those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. Yet, across nations and time, an individual’s position in the social structure interacts with the economic and political environment to repress the mass actions that could, potentially, push the elites toward fair economic redistribution.

POLINQ, economic inequality, social welfare, and clientelism

Political participation is a core aspect of POLINQ and it is a foundation of European democracies. Of the social forces that act in tandem to influence political participation, economic inequality, social spending, and clientelism loom large. Whereas economic inequality in modern capitalist societies is associated with the maldistribution of political power and unequal political engagement, institutional contexts of the political economy can amplify or dampen the impact of economic inequality. In theory, social spending should mitigate the negative externalities of economic inequality through the provision of the social and economic resources to individuals and social groups that they need to participate in politics. Equitable social spending across socioeconomic strata should relieve social and economic burdens that make it difficult for disadvantaged groups to participate in democratic life, and thus buoy the participatory environment. Yet, social spending is not necessarily equally distributed; clientelism intervenes to push resources towards already politically and economically advantaged groups, thus lowering the level of political participation.


Some conclusions of the POLINQ project

Political voice inequality is the inequality in influence – directly via political participation and indirectly through party representation – over the government decisions that impact society. Exacerbating voice inequality are economic conditions, including economic inequality. Whereas macro-level economic inequality matters under some conditions, what matters more is how structural inequalities, economic ones included, impact vulnerable disadvantaged social groups. Grievances of the masses are multi-dimensional – economic, as well as social and political – such that low income and low political opportunities leads to political dissatisfaction with external institutions and, at points, is associated with lower protest potential; however, perceived societal discrimination based on social attributes can increase protest potential. Across democracies, the youth are both the future of democracy and are among the most economically vulnerable groups. They may blame the political institutions for growing economic problems. We find that their distrust in political institutions can lead to democratic backsliding. To understand representational inequalities of social groups, we needed better data. To this end, POLINQ created two new publicly available datasets that, taken together, form the POLINQ Database: Party Representation of Social Groups (PaReSoGo) and POLINQ-Participation: Political Inequality of Voice.


Published Results of the POLINQ Project

POLINQ’s main published results are conceptual and theoretical articles, methodological articles and notes, and substantive articles.

POLINQ Conceptual and Theoretical Articles

We sought to elaborate on extant concepts in the field of studies of political voice, institutions, and inequality. This includes:

(a) The definition of political voice

Dubrow, Joshua K. “Guest Editor’s Introduction: Political Voice in Europe.” International Journal of Sociology 51, no. 4 (2021): 257-259.

(b) The elucidation of the role of economic and political grievances in generating political inequality

Muliavka, Viktoriia. “Bringing grievances back into social movement research: the conceptual and empirical case.” Social Movement Studies (2020): 1-19.

Li, Olga. “Grievances and political action in Russia during Putin’s rise to power.” International Journal of Sociology (2021): 1-17.

and of the roles of cognition and attitudes in political inequality

Lavrinenko, Olga. “Cognition and protest in democratic and authoritarian regimes, 1981–2020.” International Sociology (2022): DOI: 02685809211068664.

(c) Contentious politics and repertoires of action in low-level democracies

Zelinska, Olga. “How Protesters and the State Learn From One Another: Spiraling Repertoires of Contention and Repression in Ukraine, 1990-2014.” American Behavioral Scientist 64, no. 9 (2020): 1271-1298.

(d) The dueling roles of elites and masses in economic redistribution

Lopez, Matias and Joshua K. Dubrow. 2020. “Politics and Inequality in Comparative Perspective: A Research Agenda.” American Behavioral Scientist 64(9): 1199 – 1210.

POLINQ Methodological Articles and Notes

POLINQ sought to understand the relationship the bases of political voice from a methodological point of view. POLINQ tested various ways to measure political inequality of voice, and the results are two datasets that, combined are the POLINQ Database.

As befitting an intellectually open project that evolved over time, POLINQ made various discoveries.

(a) POLINQ explored the potential impact of major economic and political events during survey fieldwork:

Muliavka, Viktoriia. “Political Participation and Institutional Trust of Young Adults in Ukraine: Matching Conditions of Economic Grievance and Political Mobilization with European Social Survey Fieldwork Periods, 2004-2012.” Ask: Research and Methods 27, no. 1 (2018): 61-86.

Voicu, Bogdan. 2019. “Do Differences in Fieldwork Period Affect Survey Comparability? Examining World Values Survey and European Values Study in Romania, 2017 – 2018.” Harmonization: Newsletter on Survey Data Harmonization in the Social Sciences (The Ohio State University and the Polish Academy of Sciences) 5(2): 20 – 27.

(b) POLINQ explored the potential impact of wording of survey items in major cross-national surveys:

Tomescu-Dubrow, Irina, Joshua K. Dubrow, Ilona Wysmulek, and Kazimierz M. Slomczynski. 2018. “Have Done ‘Ever’ Political Participation Items in Cross-national Surveys: Origins and Implications for Analyses,” Harmonization: Newsletter on Survey Data Harmonization in the Social Sciences (The Ohio State University and the Polish Academy of Sciences) 4(2): 2 – 11.

Dubrow, Joshua K., Irina Tomescu-Dubrow, and Olga Lavrinenko. 2022. “Contacting a public official: Concept and measurement in cross-national surveys, 1960s–2010sSocial Science Quarterly DOI: 10.1111/ssqu.13177

(c) POLINQ investigated quantitative problems and solutions in accounting for intersectionality with cross-national surveys, including structural equation modeling and mixed-methods

Dubrow, Joshua K. and Corina Ilinca. 2019. “Quantitative Approaches to Intersectionality: New Methodological Directions and Implications for Policy Analysis,” pp. 195 – 214 in The Palgrave Handbook of Intersectionality in Public Policy edited by Olena Hankivsky and Julia S. Jordan-Zachery. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

(d) the local sources of error and bias in cross-national data

Dubrow, Joshua K. 2021. “Local Data and Upstream Reporting as Sources of Error in the Administrative Data Undercount of Covid 19.” International Journal of Social Research Methodology. DOI: 10.1080/13645579.2021.1909337

POLINQ sources of information and data

In addition to providing methodological knowledge for the international scientific community, we also sought to provide sources of information and data. These included:

(a) Open access sourcebooks on gender and politics:

Dubrow, Joshua K. and Adrianna Zabrzewska (eds.). 2020. Gender Quotas in the Post-Communist World: Voice of the Parliamentarians. IFiS Publishers.

Zabrzewska, Adrianna and Joshua K. Dubrow (eds.). 2022. Gender, Voice, and Violence in Poland: Women’s Protests during the Pandemic. IFiS Publishers.

(b) POLINQ Database:

Zelinska, Olga; Dubrow, Joshua K.: Party Representation of Social Groups (PaReSoGo) [data]. Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences [producer], Warsaw, 2021. PADS21317. Polish Social Data Archive [distributor], Repozytorium Danych Społecznych [publisher], 2021. https://doi.org/10.18150/NPXPAT, V1

Described in: Zelinska, Olga, and Joshua K. Dubrow. “PaReSoGo: Dataset on party representation of social groups for 25 countries, 2002–2016.” Party Politics (2021).

Dubrow, Joshua K.; Lavrinenko, Olga: POLINQ-Participation: Political Inequality of Voice [data]. Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Polish Academy of Sciences [producer], Warsaw, 2021. PADS22001. Polskie Archiwum Danych Społecznych [distributor], Repozytorium Danych Społecznych [publisher], 2022. https://doi.org/10.18150/PC8QZQ, V1

POLINQ Substantive Findings

POLINQ analyzed cross-national data for our substantive discoveries. These included:

(a) Stability of the individual determinants of political participation in Europe across time

Dubrow et al 2022 “Contacting a public official: Concept and measurement in cross-national surveys, 1960s–2010s” Social Science Quarterly

(b) Protest under conditions of democratic backsliding

Kwak, Joonghyun, Irina Tomescu-Dubrow, Kazimierz M. Slomczynski, and Joshua K. Dubrow. 2020. “Youth, Institutional Trust, and Democratic Backsliding.” American Behavioral Scientist 64, no. 9: 1366- 1390.

(c) The relationship between economic inequality, policies of economic redistribution, attitudes toward economic redistribution and economic inequality, and protest potential

Lavrinenko, Olga. “Cognition and protest in democratic and authoritarian regimes, 1981–2020.” International Sociology (2022): DOI: 02685809211068664.

Lavrinenko, Olga. “Exploring Protest in Europe with a Multi-Level Cross-National Test of the Structural Cognitive Model.” International Journal of Sociology (2021): 1-15.

(d) The relationships between economic inequality, economic and political grievances, and protest

Muliavka, 2020 “Bringing grievances back into social movement research: the conceptual and empirical case,” Social Movement Studies

(e) Protest within authoritarian regimes and other un-democratic institutions

Li, Olga. “Grievances and political action in Russia during Putin’s rise to power.International Journal of Sociology (2021): 1-17.

POLINQ Guest Edited Issues of International Peer Reviewed Journals

POLINQ produced two guest edited issues. They are:

Dubrow, Joshua K. 2021. Political Voice in Europe. International Journal of Sociology, Volume 51, Issue 4.

Lopez, Matias and Joshua K. Dubrow. 2020. “Why Political Inequality Endures: Elites, Contestation and Participation in Modern Democracies.” American Behavioral Scientist 64(9).


Seminars of the POLINQ Project

The POLINQ project organized two rounds of seminars, pre-Covid 19 pandemic.

The first was at the University of Bucharest, Romania 2017 – 2018. The seminar centered on (a) the connection between politics and inequality across nations and time and, to add to graduate student training, (b) moving from ideas to manageable research projects, and publishing, in the social sciences. The second was at IFiS PAN 2019 – January 2020. This was a monthly meeting in which we discussed the latest academic research in the social sciences on the subject of politics.


Conferences of the POLINQ Project

POLINQ organized two major international conferences.

The international conference, “Politics and Inequality across Nations and Time: Theoretical and Empirical Approaches,” was held at IFiS PAN, December 12 – 14, 2018 in Warsaw, Poland. Presentations were on substantive and methodological issues related to political voice and economic inequality. There were 34 attendees from Europe, the United States, and Latin America. Of the fifteen conference presenters: eight were from institutions outside of Poland, and there were eight advanced researchers, three recent PhDs, and four PhD students. Students from the Graduate School for Social Research and the University of Warsaw attended. Participants hailed from across the social sciences, including sociology, political science, and economics.

POLINQ conducted post-conference interviews with some of the participants: Renira C. Angeles, Catherine Bolzendahl, Constantin Manuel Bosancianu, Gwangeun Choi, Jan Falkowski, Katerina Vrablikova, and Piotr Zagorski.

The second international conference, “Building Multi-Source Databases for Comparative Analyses,” was held December 16-20, 2019 at IFiS PAN and was in cooperation with the project “Survey Data Recycling: New Analytic Framework, Integrated Database, and Tools for Cross-national Social, Behavioral and Economic Research”, a joint endeavour of the The Ohio State University and IFiS PAN. It explored the sources of data for the POLINQ project, including survey and administrative data.


Training of PhDs and Post-Docs of the POLINQ Project

Within the grant period, one of our research assistants achieved their PhD in sociology (Olga Zelinska, 2020, IFiS PAN), and three of our young researchers – Marta Kolczynska (2019/32/C/HS6 /00421) (former post-doc), Olga Zelinska (2021/40/C/HS6/00229) (Graduate Research Assistant), and Olga Lavrinenko (2021/40/C/HS6/00150) (recent Post-doc) – were awarded National Science Centre, Poland Sonatina Post-Doctoral Scholarships.

Interview with Catherine Bolzendahl on Women’s Political Empowerment Worldwide

Catherine Bolzendahl, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology of the University of California-Irvine, recently delivered the keynote speech, “Women’s Political Empowerment: A Path toward Progress in Uncertain Times,” at the Politics and Inequality conference held December 2018 in Warsaw, Poland.

Catherine Bolzendahl’s interests are in political change cross-nationally and over time, as well as gender and politics. Her research has appeared in Social Forces, European Sociological Review, and British Journal of Sociology, among others. Her recent book is the co-edited volume, Measuring Women’s Political Empowerment Across the Globe: Strategies, Challenges and Future Research (2017, Palgrave).

Interview with Catherine Bolzendahl

At the Politics and Inequality conference, you presented your long-running and varied research on gender and politics in comparative perspective, and what comes next for your research. Looking back, what are some of your most important findings and discoveries?

This is an interesting question because I feel like it is only lately that I’m starting to identify the broader contributions of my current body of work. I’ve always been fundamentally interested in how and why women and men engage with politics and how politics shapes people’s lives as men and women. Of course, this is strongly centered on concerns regarding inequality. My work has led me to a few findings that have been exciting and compelled me to keep digging. First, nations where women have more equality to men politically and economically invest more in social policy generosity. In particular, this contributes to the growing conclusion that women’s political representation changes the policy output in a nation for the better. Second, that we often define politics too narrowly, and in ways that exclude and undervalue women’s contributions as political citizens. This undermines both gender equality and an accurate understanding of women’s political contributions. Third, there is pervasive gender inequality within legislatures, and many are structured to segregate women’s and men’s participation and thus reify patterns of inequality that limit potential for larger change.

What challenges have you faced in conducting or presenting your research on gender?

There are many! As a sociologist, much of my work depends on the larger body of work on gender and politics that exists within the field of political science. Political sociology and political science have long been intertwined and successfully pushed our knowledge forward. However, in sociology, by studying gender, the field does not always know what to do with my work. Political sociology tends to view my work as belonging more to gender and gender scholars see my work as belonging more to political sociology. This makes it difficult to navigate publication outlets, and I often find myself publishing in political science journals. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that issues of gender and politics are of central concern to sociology and work to publish and advocate for such work in the field. Unfortunately, political scientists often do not cite sociology, which may lower my profile in this larger sub-field. By networking across both sociology and political science, I work to counter this, but it is more challenging. Nevertheless, working at the intersections is also, I think, more exciting.

What surprised you most in your research on gender and politics?

The biggest surprise for me was realizing that some feminist scholars view my work as invalid or less important because I use quantitative methods. I was invited to a panel at the Social Science History Association that asked, Can Quantitative Work be Feminist? Before that time I hadn’t realize some thought it could not!

What’s the next step for your research agenda?

I have so many unanswered questions! I’m particularly interested in a better understanding of the roles men and women play within legislatures and how this affects policy outcomes. Another question I’m working on with colleagues is related to international gender gaps in beliefs about family form, particularly same-sex families. Finally, I hope to continue working on issues related to the link between intolerance and ethnonationalist populism over time.

Please list two of your recent favorite articles or books in the field of politics and inequality, and why you chose them.

I recently taught a graduate course on Gender, and finally got the chance to read Viterna’s 2013 book:

Viterna, Jocelyn. 2013. Women in War: The Micro-processes of Mobilization in El Salvador. Oxford University Press.

It is meticulously researched and theoretically powerful. I was particularly struck by the insights Viterna provided into which women guerrilla fighters went on to maintain an activist profile. The women who continued to engage in political activism has been given more authority and high-level networking with the (men’s) leadership during the war. I’m still mulling over the implications of her work for my own perspectives

Another book I’m still working through is by Laurel Weldon and Mala Htun that came out last year:

Htun, Mala, and S. Laurel Weldon. 2018. The Logics of Gender Justice: State Action on Women’s Rights Around the World. Cambridge University Press.

I find their argument that different issues related to gender inequality depend on various “logics” to be really compelling. I think it is one of those book that will launch a great deal of future research that works to utilize and further test their arguments.

What’s an older article or book in the field of politics and inequality that you like, and why?

I will have to name three! First, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Walter Korpi’s book, The Democratic Class Struggle (1983). It was very eye-opening for me to think about how disadvantaged groups could claim their rights and advance their position in society. Second, T.H. Marshall’s classic essay on “Citizenship and Social Class” (1950) profoundly shaped my views on political rights, and my belief in the importance of advancing social rights as fundamental democratic rights. Third, Anne Orloff’s American Sociological Review article “Gender and the Social Rights of Citizenship” (1993) helped me see how the other two pieces could be leveraged with feminist theory toward the agenda I pursue today.

measuring womens political empowerment book

“Without doubt, this is the book that all scholars of gender, politics, and empowerment must have on their shelves.”

— Professor Jocelyn Viterna, Harvard University, USA

The interview was conducted via email by Joshua K. Dubrow, who also edited this piece, including the embedding of web links. This work was funded by the National Science Centre, Poland (2016/23/B/HS6/03916).

Interview with Katerina Vrablikova on Economic Hardship, Politicization and Protest

Katerina Vrablikova, of the University of Bath, UK, recently presented a paper, “Economic Hardship, Politicization and Protest in Western Democracies,” at the Politics and Inequality conference held in Warsaw, Poland.

Since Fall 2018, Kateřina Vráblíková has been a senior lecturer in Politics at the Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies at the University of Bath. During Spring 2019, she is also an Istvan Deak Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. She does research on social movements, political participation, political attitudes and culture, and democracy. Her book, What Kind of Democracy? Participation, Inclusiveness and Contestation was published by Routledge in 2017.

We asked Katerina Vrablikova for an extended abstract of her Politics and Inequality conference paper and, via email, some questions about her research. We are thankful for her positive and detailed response.

Extended Abstract: “Economic Hardship, Politicization and Protest in Western Democracies” 

How and why does economic crisis and similar situations trigger protest of poor? The paper argues that in addition to the expansion of the pool of deprived people, who can potentially protest (composition mechanism), events like the Economic crisis also provide a supportive political environment for political mobilization of socio-economically excluded groups (mobilization mechanism). As potentially very threatening and unpredictable event, economic crisis can skyrocket the salience of the economic problems in national politics. This opens space for the re-definition of economic issues and identities and for political mobilization of socio-economically deprived people, who, under normal circumstances do not participate much because they lack resources necessary for participation. Typically, protest attracts relatively resourceful and financially secure people, who get active around a variety of issues that are not directly related to their personal situation, such as environmental, anti-war, women’s rights, anti-corruption mobilizations. Protest of socio-economically deprived people is different. It is motivated by the personal experience of bad socio-economic conditions that becomes a purpose of mobilization and tales place despite the lack of individual resources. The article uses data from four waves of European Social Survey that are combined with macro-economic data and aggregated survey data (Eurobarometer) on public concern about national economy (percentage of people saying that the economic situation is very bad). The results show that poor people were most likely to protest in times of the Economic crisis in countries where the economic problems raised a very high concern. In the period before the Great Recession and in countries where economic problems were not recognized as severe and salient, poor people are much less likely to protest. In this special situation of economic crisis, poor thus get mobilized and join the better-off protesters, who are the usual suspects at ordinary protests that get mobilized by salient issues also during normal times.

Interview 

The research you presented at the Politics and Inequality conference was on the economic crisis and protest. How did you get interested in this topic? And how is this topic connected to other research that you are doing?

In summer 2012, the Czech Republic experienced relatively high level of anti-austerity protest. That time I just defended my dissertation on non-electoral participation and worked at the Czech Academy of Sciences. I was asked in a radio interview about the causes of such unusually high protest mobilization and I, in fact, was not able to tell much in reply. Because, normally, we would say that it is more resourceful people and people with post-materialist values, who usually participate in politics more, including protest. These protests, however, did not seem to fit to this “privileged postmaterialist protester” story. For instance, an anti-Roma march in a Czech regional capital (in fact one that I come from) was the largest collective mobilization in the city since the 1989 revolution and, according to observers, the participants included a handful of rightwing extremists and low-income and low-educated Czechs. The profile of participants thus corresponded to old social movement theories that expect socio-economic grievances to trigger protest and that were considered disapproved in mainstream political participation and social movement literature. So, I followed this up and read more about the role of mobilizing grievances. It turned out that political context might play an important role in activation of the relatively unusual grievance participatory mechanismAnd this point very well fitted to my general interest in how political environment shapes citizens’ activism and preferences. In my other research, I have examined the role of political institutions and political culture on individual non-electoral participation.

Continue reading “Interview with Katerina Vrablikova on Economic Hardship, Politicization and Protest”

Neoliberalism and Democracy

The planet earth swimming in an unreal sea of money

This is a guest post by Alex Afouxenidis, Professor at the National Centre for Social Research, Athens, Greece. It is based on his chapter in, Political Inequality in an Age of Democracy (Routledge).

What is neoliberalism and how does it impact democracy?

Neoliberalism is based on the idea of ignoring fundamental human needs.

The success of neoliberal political strategies rests on a mixture of rhetoric and control of democracy’s major local and global institutions. It is also based on the erosion of the key actors and institutions that are the main underpinnings of contemporary democracies, such as pressure groups, civic organizations, and educational institutes.

In neoliberalism’s economic sphere, economic growth does not need to translate into growth of equality. Considering rising social, economic, and political inequalities, we are looking at abuse being taken for granted.

Table of Contents

  1. What is neoliberalism and how does it impact democracy?
    1. Understanding Democracies’ Political Shift toward Neoliberalism
      1. Market idealization is not working: it has generated profound constraints on people’s liberty and self-determination.
    2. Neoliberalism and Four Dimensions of Democratic Organization
      1. Neoliberalism and Democracy: The Economic Sphere
      2. Neoliberalism and Democracy: The Social and Political Spheres
      3. Neoliberalism and Democracy: The Cultural Sphere
        1. In global terms ‘neoliberalism’ itself has become part of popular culture packed with iconic figure heads such as Thatcher or Reagan and reactionary representational references to anti-statism, individuality, and consumerism.
    3. Neoliberalism, Democracy, and Crisis

Understanding Democracies’ Political Shift toward Neoliberalism

The pervasive counter-democratic ideological force of neoliberalism has had a deep impact on people’s lives, identities and beliefs despite its obvious failure to sustain any meaningful sense of ‘economic growth’. This is evident in many regions across the world where economies are being re-structured and reformed generating greater forms of inequality and limiting political freedom. Political crises have become everyday occurrence for many nations. Governments are in a continuous state of instability and many turn to (semi?) authoritarian rule in order to retain power.

Market idealization is not working: it has generated profound constraints on people’s liberty and self-determination.

As one reflects upon the countless analyses and informed criticisms on the impact of neoliberal ideology and strategy, it becomes increasingly clear that the main constitutive element of this sort of ‘philosophy’ is related to the idea of ignoring fundamental human needs. This conceptualization has generated a rupture with respect to western classical liberal discourses such as those, for example, put forward by J. Locke, J.S. Mill or J. Rawls. For, even though they strongly suggested personal autonomy, they equally forcefully reflected upon the idea that if the needs of individuals are not adequately met then liberty will be limited.

This radical shift in the liberal ideological agenda that emerged during the early 1980s used the language of freedom and individuality to promote a basically dehumanizing and oppressive status quo. Humanity thus was re-defined vertically and horizontally along and across the usual bi-polarities: poor/wealthy, in/out of work, males/females, gay/straight, western/non-western, north/south, black/white, moral/immoral, productive/un-productive, private/public and so forth. The question, in this respect, is not so much whether these categories actually exist or not, but rather how and in which ways they are used to generate and reproduce a vocabulary and a subsequent series of political practices and agendas.

In fact these are populist images of societal structures based on rather simplistic belief systems. In cultural terms, they advocate exclusivity of the ‘West’ over all others, intentionally promoting ideas which view the ‘West’ as a single all embracing cultural unit. In political terms, the market and economic ‘freedom’ are dissociated from the inner workings of democracy. Hence, if democratic procedures and/or processes contradict neoliberal thinking, then they may be overlooked.

Success of neoliberal political strategies rests on a mixture of rhetoric, force and, more importantly, control of the major local and global institutions such as the state and/or international financial organizations. In addition, it is also very much based on the slow or rapid fragmentation and, ultimately, severe erosion if not destruction of diverse agents such as public actors, pressure groups, civic organizations, think tanks, educational institutes and a variety of other structures which have formed the main underpinnings of contemporary democracies.

Neoliberalism and Four Dimensions of Democratic Organization

Over the past 35 years, a very powerful fable has been used to legitimize economic and social intervention operating across the four major areas of democratic organization, namely the economic, political, social and cultural spheres.

Neoliberalism and Democracy: The Economic Sphere

In the economic sphere, the main neoliberal idea is that societies and countries have to shift away from policies related to integration and replace them with policies – and the corresponding ideologies – of divergence. Economic growth therefore does not need to translate into growth of equality.

Neoliberalism and Democracy: The Social and Political Spheres

Divergence and accompanying growing gaps in political inequality and social inequality have become accepted as systemic norms.

Accordingly, the nature of political systems has to be altered to accommodate for increased inequality, inequity and exploitation coupled by a reduced public sphere and an enlarged, dominating private sector through the diminution of all sorts of political participation and a reduction of the state’s capacity to organize civil life.

Neoliberalism and Democracy: The Cultural Sphere

In simpler terms, in an enforced alteration of political culture, the façade of a well organized democracy is only required to counter-balance the harsh re-constitution of society: to make it somewhat more respectable to the eyes of people. In total, neoliberal strategies have played a significant role in the realignment of the cultural sphere and cultural politics.

DALL-E “Gustav Klimt painting of democracy and money”

Neoliberalism, Democracy, and Crisis

Although some writers seem to be rather optimistic on the reversal of the neoliberal political project, mostly because of the effects of the current crisis, we should be more cautious.

For a long time the system has gone through various crises, and has nevertheless flourished despite massive reactions from a variety of people and organizations across the world. Neoliberal ideology has not been fundamentally challenged and if anything it seems that neoliberalism has gained, for example via the post-2008 crisis, influence and as a consequence a whole new range of economic, political, social and cultural strategies have been deployed.

The political process has been ‘de-legitimized’ to a large extent and liberal democracy appears deficient, and yet for the neoliberal political agenda this is probably good news. When one looks at the rising figures of social and political inequality, the widening gap between rich and poor and instances of extreme poverty within and across nations and regions, one looks at the same time at abuse being taken for granted. And much more research is required precisely on that last point.

Prof. Alex Afouxenidis is a Researcher at the National Centre for Social Research, Athens, Greece and specializes in Political Sociology. He is the editor of The Greek Review of Social Research, and recently edited a special issue on social media and politics. He can be reached at www.ekke.gr and afouxenidis@ekke.gr

This piece is based on the chapter “Neoliberalism and Democracy”, in Dubrow, J. (ed), Political Inequality in an Age of Democracy: Cross-national Perspectives, London: Routledge, pp. 40-48.

Elites care about inequality, but probably not in the way that you think

This is a guest post by Matias Lopez, Universidad Católica, Chile.

Do the elite care about inequality?

A survey of over 800 elites in six Latin American countries reveals that they acknowledge economic inequality as a problem, but see little incentive to reduce inequality. The elite from stronger and more stable democracies tend to be more aware of inequality as a political problem. Yet they do not view equitable income re-distribution as the answer.

The Problem of an Elite in Democracy

Latin America has some of the highest levels of economic inequality in the world, and it also has many democracies.

That a tiny elite accumulates excessive wealth and power prompts concern about the future of democracy. We know from several studies that this inequality may generate conflict and support for non-democratic leadership — a perilous situation recognized by citizens of the United States and Europe.

Questions:

  • What do elites themselves think about the risks of inequality?
  • Do they feel comfortable living with these risks, or do they feel worried about them?
  • And if they feel worried, what are they willing to do about it?

Exploring Elites and Democracy in Latin America

To answer these questions, Latin America provides a very useful set of cases.

Many large and durable democracies in the region, such as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico, have high levels of economic inequality even though this inequality creates urban violence and social unrest. Extreme inequality in a democracy is a problem for average citizens because it puts in doubt Lincoln’s principle of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Meanwhile, elites also have good reasons to fear inequality as they are clearly impacted by the political turmoil and the social violence that can follow.

I looked at the University of São Paulo survey conducted in six Latin American countries of over 800 members of the elite in the realms of politics, business, and civil society.

I found out that most of the elite share the usual concerns about inequality and democratic stability.

But the relationship between concern and action has not to do with inequality itself, but with the strength and stability of democracy.

Stronger and more stable democracies tend to have more members of the elite concerned about inequality. This seems intuitive, since stronger democracies may have more to lose from the sort of social menaces that accompany extreme inequality.

But if concern over the perils of high inequality would, rationally speaking, lead the elite to act to reduce inequality, then my second finding is counter-intuitive:

I also found out that, by and large, the Latin American elite have little desire to lower the level of economic inequality.

Inequality, over the past decade, has decreased significantly in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Chile. I found that countries whose inequality dropped also have elite who show the highest levels of concern. Brazil is a very interesting case in this regard. The country’s inequality has recently fallen but remains among the highest in the world. As in other Latin American countries, Brazilian elites share concern over the problem of inequality, but do not feel that they should be part of the solution. For example, they are strongly averse to paying more taxes, as shown in the figure below.

Figure 1. Brazilian Elite Agreement with Further Social Investment and with Further Taxation

matias-lopez-elite-figure-1

Source: USP 2008

Except for union leaders, all elite sectors in Brazil scored much higher for welfare spending than for taxation. Union leaders may believe that they will not be the ones paying extra taxes, as they often picture themselves as part of the working class, not the elite. Business elites seem to be aware that they would be preferential targets of taxation. On average, the elite do like the idea of increasing social welfare, as long as they are not asked to contribute more to it.

Summary

In sum, the elite often worry a lot about inequality. But they also feel that they get away with doing nothing substantive about it, and feel no need to sacrifice their own resources to end it.

This article is based on the chapter, “Elite Perception of Inequality as a Threat to Democracy in Six Latin American Countries,” in the book, Political Inequality in an Age of Democracy: Cross-national Perspectives.

Matias Lopez is a PhD candidate in political science at the Universidad Católica, Chile. His research is on democratic stability in contexts of high inequality. He can be reached at matiaslopez.uy[at]gmail.com

The Political Voice of Xenophobes

This is a guest post by Irina Tomescu-Dubrow, Polish Academy of Sciences and Kazimierz M. Slomczynski, The Ohio State University

Xenophobes and those discriminated based on ethnicity have political voice

In an inclusive and tolerant society that values political equality, expression of political voice is supposed to be open to everyone.

Let’s consider those who feel discriminated for their ethnicity and those who espouse anti-immigrant attitudes, i.e. xenophobes – two groups at the heart of the socio-cultural cleavage common in European democracies.

Are they similar?

Definitions of Xenophobes and the Discriminated

We define the ethno-discriminated as people who feel they were discriminated against based on their culture, ethnicity, religion or language. We define xenophobes as individuals who express the views that immigrants damage the economic, cultural and social fabric of the receiving country.

Ethno-discriminated and xenophobes can be seen as extremes, and form, in principle, minorities in opposition to each other.

Yet, scholars have analyzed these groups’ political behaviors separately, that is, either for ethnic minorities, or for persons with anti-immigrant attitudes. Moreover, far more attention is given to ethnic minority participation.

Our Study of the Political Voice of Xenophobes and the Discriminated

We used the European Social Survey 2012 to examine how these groups engage with two complementary expressions of political voice: attitudes toward key democratic institutions, and political participation.

To understand how the ethno-discriminated and the xenophobes behave politically, we argued that marginalization theory and group conflict theory should be synthesized. We argued that the two groups are similar in some civic domains while quite different in others.

We found clear empirical support for these two hypotheses:

1. Trust in institutions matters

On trust in democratic institutions, the effect of belonging to either of these two groups is negative and relatively strong (net of other factors).

2. Those discriminated based on ethnicity participate in politics more than the xenophobes

On political participation, those who feel ethno-discriminated tend to participate more, while xenophobes tend to participate less (in comparison with the wider society).

Moreover, feeling discriminated based on ethnicity has a positive influence on working with political parties or other organizations. We also predicted that xenophobes would differ significantly from the ethno-discriminated, but not from the wider society. Yet, we found that, other things equal, xenophobes are engaged in this kind of activity significantly less than the society’s majority.

Future studies of the political participation of xenophobes should focus on national contexts

Other political contextual factors likely influence the democratic engagement of these groups. We suspect that a substantial presence of right-wing parties and the strength of the multicultural environment are key factors that would determine how the ethno-discriminated and the xenophobes participate.

In political campaign seasons, right-wing parties hold political rallies that attract the xenophobic and repel the ethno-discriminated. Once in government, right-wing parties use legitimate democratic platforms – parliamentary debates, for example – to publicly express their worldviews. Both situations attract media attention and thus right wing parties can use newspapers, television, radio and Internet to broadcast xenophobia. This environment would likely encourage expression of relatively unpopular, anti-immigrant policy preferences in either forums of public discourse – such as lawful demonstrations – or to work directly with the right-wing political organizations.

The extent to which this environment discourages the democratic engagement of the ethno-discriminated depends on the countervailing multiculturalist forces that already exist in the political environment (e.g. the strength of pro-immigrant left-wing parties and the country’s recent history in promoting multiculturalism and fighting xenophobia).

This article is based on the chapter, “Democratic Engagement of Xenophobes and the Ethno-Discriminated in Europe,” in Political Inequality in an Age of Democracy: Cross-national Perspectives, edited by Joshua K. Dubrow (Routledge 2015).

Irina Tomescu-Dubrow is a Professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Director of the Graduate School for Social Research.

Kazimierz M. Slomczynski is Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University.

xenophobia

What Is Political Inequality and How Unequal Are We?

We Know a lot about Economic Inequality

When the Occupy Wall Street movement reached its heyday in the Autumn of 2011, spreading to cities all over the world, the protesters’ rallying cry was, “We are the 99 percent.” They hoped for political change, among other things, but “99” was mainly understood as a statement about economic inequality.

If you want to know how much economic inequality there is in your country, and whether this inequality been rising, falling, or staying the same, you can turn to the terabytes worth of publicly available economic data and grind them through the many inequality equations to derive a multitude of statistics. With decades of innovations in the study of economics and inequality, led by the disciplines of sociology and economics, we can, at least, have a debate over economic inequality and its dynamics over time.

We know less about Political Inequality

Political inequality is a distinct form of inequality but has yet to attract sustained, systematic scholarly attention in the same way as its sibling inequalities. Although political equality is a foundation of modern democracy, we do not know how far from equality we are. Even the news media rarely addresses political inequality. We need more eyes on the problem.

Popular Definitions of Political Inequality

The work of social scientists, philosophers and other scholars offer many definitions of political inequality. Political inequality’s conceptual roots are temporally deep and spread-out in many disciplines. Read together, they point to the idea that political inequality is at once a dimension of democracy and a dimension of stratification.

Built on the classics, modern definitions of political inequality depend on whether one is concerned about equality of opportunities or equality of outcomes. In short, equality of opportunities is about access to the political decision. Equality of outcomes refers to the law, symbols, policy or other output that is the result of the political process. Most definitions are based on the idea of equality of opportunities, but they could be modified to include outcomes, too.

Let’s look at some popular definitions from my book on political inequality:

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Political inequality is structured differences in the distribution of political resources

According to this definition, one group has greater or lesser access to, or acquisition of, political resources than another group.

Political equality is when everybody’s preferences are equally weighted in political decisions.

The definition of “everybody” matters, of course: Everybody could mean all citizens, or it could mean all who are potentially impacted by the decision.

Political inequality is the existence of authority divisions

Here, we speak of political inequality when groups have unequal political input into the decisions that affect them. The more layers of authority between the citizen and the decision, the greater the political inequality.

We can usefully combine these approaches with a definition that both simple and flexible:

Political inequality refers to structured differences in influence over decisions made by political bodies and the unequal outcomes of those decisions.

How Much Political Inequality Is There?

Short answer: nobody knows.

Why? Because there are no cross-national comprehensive measures of it. Nobody’s ever done it. And that’s because we need to ask, “for whom” and “of what.” Who is unequal? And are they unequal in terms of voice or government response? Those questions are hard to quantify.

This video explains why we don’t know:

Political Inequality Is the Shadow of Democracy

Democratic institutions set the rules of the political process and guarantee formal rights of political participation to a wide variety of citizens, but not to all of them. Many discussions of political inequality are debates about whether and how equality in democratic governance can be achieved. The coexistence of democracy with political inequality leads to the question of how realistic the idea is that all interested participants can enjoy equal influence on the governance decision or in its outcomes. A common thought is that we should seriously consider acceptable limits in who should be unequal and how to manage this inequality while still raising high the banner of democracy. This leads to a conclusion that political inequality is the shadow of democracy.

A recent article on inequality and policy outcomes by Gilens and Page (2014) highlights the promise and the difficulties in measuring political inequality. Their unique data consists of 1779 policies taken up by the U.S. Congress from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Each policy is matched to a public opinion survey research question asked during the time the policy was introduced (“this policy says X, to what extent do you agree with it?”) and to a set of interest groups who have taken a position on the policy. With these data, they gauged the extent to which the policy outcome reflects (a) the will of the median voter – identified within the surveys and (b) types of interest groups, such as economic elites, business interests, and mass public interest groups. They found that policy outcomes tend to favor the will of economic elites, not the median voter.

Their study provides solid, further evidence of the paucity of pluralism in American democracy, but their measure of political inequality has shortcomings. First, they chose policies based on whether they were asked in public opinion surveys, and that means the many, not-so-famous policy debates that also shape key economic distribution policies were excluded. Nor can it account for the policies that are off the Congressional agenda, the type of power that Bacharach and Baratz (1967) warned that is most pernicious: the power to compel voters to not even ask for the policy in the first place. It is also specific to the American experience; though it can be replicated elsewhere, so far there is no cross-national equivalent to these data. Gilens and Page (2014) conducted what is likely one of the most unique studies on American political inequality, and it’s just a start.

Future Research in Political Inequality

Political inequality is an important topic for our times. We must be aware that the objective and subjective realities of political inequality rouses people to action.  That political inequality lives in democracies across the world is a troubling fact of life, and if we want to move closer to political equality, we can do better to understand it.

First, let’s study it more. While doing that, let’s see if we can measure it comprehensively across nations. And then, let’s see what can be done about it.

And, so we did. Please read our report on POLINQ: Political Inequality and Political Voice across Nations and Time.

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Copyright Joshua K. Dubrow 2022

Do Newspapers Write about Democracy and Equality?

What is political inequality?

Political inequality is both unequal influence over decisions made by political bodies and the unequal outcomes of those decisions. Political equality is “a fundamental premise of democracy” (quoting celebrated political theorist Robert Dahl).

The news media has long reflected and shaped modern societies. In their pages we should expect that they present the news about democracy and equality and, in doing so, help shape national conversations about these issues.

Do they, much?

How do newspapers report on democracy and equality?

As part of the book on political inequality, I observed how often news items about democracy and equality appear in six English language newspapers in the UK, USA and Canada from 1988 to 2013 (methodology) The newspapers are: The Times, The Guardian, The New York Times, USA Today, the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail.

Here’s what I found:

Its Small

Overall, the level of coverage is small, especially the combination of democracy and equality, of which one can say that it hardly ever appears in major Western newspapers.

Its inconsistent

Democracy and equality each have their different trends. Democracy coverage rises and falls by major world event: after the Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe (1989 – 1991) and in the beginning of the Iraq War (2003 – 2005).

Equality upswing after 2008

After the global economic crisis of 2008, there has been an upswing in equality coverage.

Weak connection between democracy and equality

Since 2008, in three major newspapers (one each for the UK, US and Canada) there has been a marginal yet visible upswing in news media interest in how democracy connects with equality.

What is more fundamental to democracy than political equality?

To help educate citizens, the news media should promote national conversations about democracy and equality.

Imagine if every major newspaper in the world devoted a couple of columns every week to discussions about the connection between democracy and equality.  Imagine the good this would do.