PS: Political Science & Politics


Preference Gaps and Inequality in Representation

Martin Gilensa1

a1 Princeton University


In a recent article in PS, Soroka and Wlezien (2008) argue that the policy preferences of low- and high-income Americans rarely differ, and therefore that “regardless of whose preferences policymakers follow … policy will end up in essentially the same place” (325). In this article, I analyze a much larger and more diverse set of policies than those examined by Soroka and Wlezien and show that income-based preference gaps are much larger and more widespread than their data suggest. In terms of federal government policy, the affluent are far better represented than the poor; the findings in this paper indicate that this representational inequality has substantial repercussions across a wide range of policy issues.

Martin Gilens is associate professor of politics at Princeton University. His research examines public opinion and mass media, especially in relation to inequality, public policy, and citizen competence, and democratic responsiveness to public preferences. Gilens is the author of Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy, and has published on political inequality, mass media, race, gender, and welfare politics in the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, The Journal of Politics, the British Journal of Political Science, Public Opinion Quarterly, and the Berkeley Journal of Sociology.


I am grateful to Larry Bartels and Tali Mendelberg for valuable comments on this paper; to Chris Wlezien and Stuart Soroka for help in replicating their analyses of the General Social Survey; to Chris Achen, Dennis Barr, Larry Bartels, Will Bullock, Ted Carmines, Janet Felton, Michael Hagen, Larry Jacobs, Suzanne Mettler, Robert Shapiro, Theda Skocpol, Sidney Verba, and Chris Wlezien for their assistance and suggestions on my project on democratic responsiveness from which the data used for this paper were drawn; to Oleg Bespalov, Daniel Cassino, Marty Cohen, Jason Conwell, Shana Gadarian, Raymond Hicks, Naomi Murakawa, Andrea Vanacore, and Mark West for research assistance; and to the Russell Sage Foundation, the Committee for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences at Princeton University, and the Institute for Social Science Research at UCLA for financial support.