Friday, February 26, 2016

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Sean McElwee examines how the wealthy control the U.S.' political system, while public opinion plays far too little role in policy choices:
A comprehensive study by Grossmann finds that public opinion was a significant factor in 25 percent of policy changes since 1945. More influential factors have included interest groups (49 percent) and presidents exercising political capital (60 percent).

Why? First, public opinion is volatile, particularly among low-income people. While the rich are consistently in support and the middle class consistently opposed, the lowest decile fluctuates between support and opposition. As political scientist Chris Tausanovitch notes, “Although the preferences of higher income constituents account for more of the variation in legislator voting behavior, higher income constituents also account for much more of the variation in district preferences.” In other words, because low-income Americans have less clearly defined preferences, their opinions vary less, so politicians may be less likely to respond to them.

Political scientists Joseph Daniel Ura and Christopher Ellis argue that less-educated individuals, who are disproportionately low-income, are less likely to align their preferences about government size with class interest. This suggests that higher income opinion is more clearly defined.

Second, the decline of labor unions makes it difficult for low-income Americans to accurately identify and lobby for policies that are in their interest. In a recent study, political scientists Torben Iversen and David Soskice show that low-income people with little political information and who aren’t union members are more likely to support a right-wing party than those who are members of a union and high political information. Their work lines up with that of Anthony Fowler and Michele Margolis, who find that informing people about Republican and Democratic policies using objective information leads them to shift toward supporting Democrats.
(P)olicy is biased toward the rich. Diagnosing how this bias occurs is the key to prescribing remedies. It’s clear that lack of effective mobilization — in terms of voting and other political activities — is at the core of disproportionate representation. The overwhelming power of the donor class further hampers equal representation.

There are many possible solutions. Automatic voter registration would reduce barriers to participation in election. This step is being implemented in Oregon, which has already added 10,000 voters since the beginning of the year. Other states are likely to follow. Stronger unions would be able to push more successfully for policies that benefit the working and middle class. Finally, public financing of elections would create a more diverse pool of donors.

All of these policies are favored by majorities of Americans. The problem is that this might not matter.
- PressProgress takes a look at Canadian public opinion on the lack of opportunities for young workers. And Manisha Krishnan debunks an attempt to paper over the difficulties facing the vast majority of young Canadians by tying them to "average" wealth held by a lucky few.

- Helen Ward discusses research showing that children from poor families in the UK are far more likely to have special needs - and less likely to receive any support for them when they arise.

- Roderick Benns notes that among the many reasons for concern among Ontario's provincial budget, there's some upside in the plan for a basic income pilot program.

- Finally, Neil Macdonald highlights how the Trudeau Libs' "sunny" marketing gives way to something much darker in practice.

[Edit: fixed title.]

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