The gap between rhetoric about income inequality and action to deal with it is sizable. There are many reasons for that, but one possible explanation, according to a provocative new book, is the contrasting views of Americans who vote and those who do not. The book is titled “Who Votes Now? Demographics, Issues, Inequality, and Turnout in the United States.” The authors are two political scientists, Jan E. Leighley of American University and Jonathan Nagler of New York University. “Who Votes Now?” is a thoroughgoing examination of voter turnout patterns from 1972 through 2008 and offers much to chew on. But its most important finding, the authors say, is that, on crucial questions about economic policy and redistribution, those who vote do not represent the views of those who do not vote. “Voters are significantly more conservative than nonvoters on redistributive issues and have been in every election since 1972,” they write.
“Voters may be more liberal than nonvoters on social issues, but on redistributive issues, they are not. These redistributive issues define a fundamental relationship between citizens and the state . . . and are central to ongoing conflicts about the scope of government. It is on these issues that voters offer a biased voice of the preferences of the electorate.”
The book is a reexamination of ground covered three decades ago in a foundational study of American political behavior titled “Who Votes?,” by Raymond E. Wolfinger and Steven J. Rosenstone. That work concluded, among other findings, that there were no significant differences between voters and nonvoters.
The issue of income inequality is now drawing the attention of elected officials in ways it did not just a few years ago. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio won a huge victory in November after making clear that he intended to attack the problem in his city. President Obama, in a speech last month, pledged anew to devote more of his remaining time in office to finding ways to narrow the gap between rich and poor.