The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy

Princeton University Press
Free sample

Politically active individuals and organizations make huge investments of time, energy, and money to influence everything from election outcomes to congressional subcommittee hearings to local school politics, while other groups and individual citizens seem woefully underrepresented in our political system. The Unheavenly Chorus is the most comprehensive and systematic examination of political voice in America ever undertaken--and its findings are sobering.

The Unheavenly Chorus is the first book to look at the political participation of individual citizens alongside the political advocacy of thousands of organized interests--membership associations such as unions, professional associations, trade associations, and citizens groups, as well as organizations like corporations, hospitals, and universities. Drawing on numerous in-depth surveys of members of the public as well as the largest database of interest organizations ever created--representing more than thirty-five thousand organizations over a twenty-five-year period--this book conclusively demonstrates that American democracy is marred by deeply ingrained and persistent class-based political inequality. The well educated and affluent are active in many ways to make their voices heard, while the less advantaged are not. This book reveals how the political voices of organized interests are even less representative than those of individuals, how political advantage is handed down across generations, how recruitment to political activity perpetuates and exaggerates existing biases, how political voice on the Internet replicates these inequalities--and more.


In a true democracy, the preferences and needs of all citizens deserve equal consideration. Yet equal consideration is only possible with equal citizen voice. The Unheavenly Chorus reveals how far we really are from the democratic ideal and how hard it would be to attain it.

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About the author

Kay Lehman Schlozman is the J. Joseph Moakley Endowed Professor of Political Science at Boston College. Sidney Verba is the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor Emeritus and Research Professor of Government at Harvard University. Henry E. Brady is Dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy and Class of 1941 Monroe Deutsch Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Apr 9, 2012
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Pages
728
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ISBN
9781400841912
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / Civics & Citizenship
Political Science / Civil Rights
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Democracy
Political Science / Political Process / Campaigns & Elections
Political Science / Political Process / General
Political Science / Public Policy / General
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Reconnecting with the sources of decisions that affect us, and with the processes of democracy itself, is at the heart of 21st-century sustainable communities.

Slow Democracy chronicles the ways in which ordinary people have mobilized to find local solutions to local problems. It invites us to bring the advantages of "slow" to our community decision making. Just as slow food encourages chefs and eaters to become more intimately involved with the production of local food, slow democracy encourages us to govern ourselves locally with processes that are inclusive, deliberative, and citizen powered.

Susan Clark and Woden Teachout outline the qualities of real, local decision making and show us the range of ways that communities are breathing new life into participatory democracy around the country. We meet residents who seize back control of their municipal water systems from global corporations, parents who find unique solutions to seemingly divisive school-redistricting issues, and a host of other citizens across the nation who have designed local decision-making systems to solve the problems unique to their area in ways that work best for their communities.

Though rooted in the direct participation that defined our nation's early days, slow democracy is not a romantic vision for reigniting the ways of old. Rather, the strategies outlined here are uniquely suited to 21st-century technologies and culture.If our future holds an increased focus on local food, local energy, and local economy, then surely we will need to improve our skills at local governance as well.

How American political participation is increasingly being shaped by citizens who wield more resources

The Declaration of Independence proclaims equality as a foundational American value. However, Unequal and Unrepresented finds that political voice in America is not only unequal but also unrepresentative. Those who are well educated and affluent carry megaphones. The less privileged speak in a whisper. Relying on three decades of research and an enormous wealth of information about politically active individuals and organizations, Kay Schlozman, Henry Brady, and Sidney Verba offer a concise synthesis and update of their groundbreaking work on political participation.

The authors consider the many ways that citizens in American democracy can influence public outcomes through political voice: by voting, getting involved in campaigns, communicating directly with public officials, participating online or offline, acting alone and in organizations, and investing their time and money. Socioeconomic imbalances characterize every form of political voice, but the advantage to the advantaged is especially pronounced when it comes to any form of political expression--for example, lobbying legislators or making campaign donations—that relies on money as an input. With those at the top of the ladder increasingly able to spend lavishly in politics, political action anchored in financial investment weighs ever more heavily in what public officials hear.

Citing real-life examples and examining inequalities from multiple perspectives, Unequal and Unrepresented shows how disparities in political voice endanger American democracy today.

A groundbreaking work that identifies the real culprit behind one of the great economic crimes of our time— the growing inequality of incomes between the vast majority of Americans and the richest of the rich.

We all know that the very rich have gotten a lot richer these past few decades while most Americans haven’t. In fact, the exorbitantly paid have continued to thrive during the current economic crisis, even as the rest of Americans have continued to fall behind. Why do the “haveit- alls” have so much more? And how have they managed to restructure the economy to reap the lion’s share of the gains and shift the costs of their new economic playground downward, tearing new holes in the safety net and saddling all of us with increased debt and risk? Lots of so-called experts claim to have solved this great mystery, but no one has really gotten to the bottom of it—until now.

In their lively and provocative Winner-Take-All Politics, renowned political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson demonstrate convincingly that the usual suspects—foreign trade and financial globalization, technological changes in the workplace, increased education at the top—are largely innocent of the charges against them. Instead, they indict an unlikely suspect and take us on an entertaining tour of the mountain of evidence against the culprit. The guilty party is American politics. Runaway inequality and the present economic crisis reflect what government has done to aid the rich and what it has not done to safeguard the interests of the middle class. The winner-take-all economy is primarily a result of winner-take-all politics.

In an innovative historical departure, Hacker and Pierson trace the rise of the winner-take-all economy back to the late 1970s when, under a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, a major transformation of American politics occurred. With big business and conservative ideologues organizing themselves to undo the regulations and progressive tax policies that had helped ensure a fair distribution of economic rewards, deregulation got under way, taxes were cut for the wealthiest, and business decisively defeated labor in Washington. And this transformation continued under Reagan and the Bushes as well as under Clinton, with both parties catering to the interests of those at the very top. Hacker and Pierson’s gripping narration of the epic battles waged during President Obama’s first two years in office reveals an unpleasant but catalyzing truth: winner-take-all politics, while under challenge, is still very much with us.

Winner-Take-All Politics—part revelatory history, part political analysis, part intellectual journey— shows how a political system that traditionally has been responsive to the interests of the middle class has been hijacked by the superrich. In doing so, it not only changes how we think about American politics, but also points the way to rebuilding a democracy that serves the interests of the many rather than just those of the wealthy few.
Can a country be a democracy if its government only responds to the preferences of the rich? In an ideal democracy, all citizens should have equal influence on government policy--but as this book demonstrates, America's policymakers respond almost exclusively to the preferences of the economically advantaged. Affluence and Influence definitively explores how political inequality in the United States has evolved over the last several decades and how this growing disparity has been shaped by interest groups, parties, and elections.

With sharp analysis and an impressive range of data, Martin Gilens looks at thousands of proposed policy changes, and the degree of support for each among poor, middle-class, and affluent Americans. His findings are staggering: when preferences of low- or middle-income Americans diverge from those of the affluent, there is virtually no relationship between policy outcomes and the desires of less advantaged groups. In contrast, affluent Americans' preferences exhibit a substantial relationship with policy outcomes whether their preferences are shared by lower-income groups or not. Gilens shows that representational inequality is spread widely across different policy domains and time periods. Yet Gilens also shows that under specific circumstances the preferences of the middle class and, to a lesser extent, the poor, do seem to matter. In particular, impending elections--especially presidential elections--and an even partisan division in Congress mitigate representational inequality and boost responsiveness to the preferences of the broader public.


At a time when economic and political inequality in the United States only continues to rise, Affluence and Influence raises important questions about whether American democracy is truly responding to the needs of all its citizens.

Why, after several generations of suffrage and a revival of the women's movement in the late 1960s, do women continue to be less politically active than men? Why are they less likely to seek public office or join political organizations? The Private Roots of Public Action is the most comprehensive study of this puzzle of unequal participation.

The authors develop new methods to trace gender differences in political activity to the nonpolitical institutions of everyday life--the family, school, workplace, nonpolitical voluntary association, and church. Different experiences with these institutions produce differences in the resources, skills, and political orientations that facilitate participation--with a cumulative advantage for men. In addition, part of the solution to the puzzle of unequal participation lies in politics itself: where women hold visible public office, women citizens are more politically interested and active. The model that explains gender differences in participation is sufficiently general to apply to participatory disparities among other groups--among the young, the middle-aged, and the elderly or among Latinos, African-Americans and Anglo-Whites.

Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments

1. Introduction: Citizenship and Unequal Participation
2. Studying Gender and Participation: A Brief Discourse on Method
3. Civic Activity: Political and Non-Political
4. The Political Worlds of Men and Women
5. The Legacy of Home and School
6. Domestic Tranquility: The Beliefs of Wives and Husbands
7. Domestic Hierarchy: The Household as a Social System
8. The Workplace Roots of Political Activity
9. The Realm of Voluntarism: Non-Political Associations and Religious Institutions
10. Gender, Institutions, and Political Participation
11. Gender, Race or Ethnicity, and Participation
12. Family Life and Political Life
13. What If Politics Weren't a Man's Game?
14. Conclusion: The Private Roots of Public Action

Appendixes
A. Numbers of Cases
B. Ranges of Variables
C. Supplementary Tables
D. Explanation of Outcomes Analysis
Index



Reviews of this book:
The Private Roots of Public Action begins with common explanations for the gender difference in participation, from domestic demands on women's time and psychic space through the effects of the patriarchal family, socioeconomic hierarchies, and political socialization...The results of [this] novel analysis are complex and interesting...The authors extend their model to examine the relationship between class, race or ethnicity, and political participation. This unique and accessible volume will be influential in the fields of political socialization and gender and politics. Strongly recommended.
--B. E. Marston, Choice

The Private Roots of Public Action is the most comprehensive examination of the similarities and differences in the political activity of women and men. The range of inquiry is enormous. Burns, Schlozman and Verba delve not only into political activity but also into the processes in the family, in the workplace, in places of worship, and in voluntary associations that promote and inhibit political involvement. This book goes beyond the literature in connecting to an enormous range of scholarship in political science, economics, and sociology. This is a fine piece of work.
--John Mark Hansen, University of Chicago

The Private Roots of Public Action is a very important book. It pushes research on gender and participation to a whole new level, and reshapes the agenda as far as our thinking and our research about the connections among family life, the workplace, institutions of civil society, and political and governmental institutions. The authors demonstrate the importance of understanding political participation within a larger context in a way that does justice to the complexity of people's lives.
--Kristi Anderson, Syracuse University

The Private Roots of Public Action is an important contribution to the literature on both political participation and gender politics. Because of its database, its tie-in to the most current work on political participation, and its comprehension of important current questions about gender politics, this book provides a new benchmark for work in this field. In particular, the Civic Voluntarism model developed by Verba, Schlozman, and Brady, and the consideration of how gender difference and inequality might feed into that model, is a unique contribution. This accessible book will be welcomed by gender politics scholars and will have an impact on the field of political participation.
--Virginia Sapiro, University of Wisconsin-Madison
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