Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Political Science

First Advisor

Tolbert, Caroline J

First Committee Member

Boehmke, Frederick J

Second Committee Member

Hero, Rodney

Third Committee Member

Lewis-Beck, Michael S

Fourth Committee Member

Gordon, Colin


As many political observers have pointed out, political participants in the United States are particularly unrepresentative of the population as a whole. Citizens who are politically active tend to be those on the upper end of the socioeconomic scale, for example, the wealthy and highly educated. This dissertation examines the ways in which inequalities in political participation lead to differences in the behavior of elected officials and their subsequent actions related to policy making. That is, politicians have the ability, and under certain circumstances the incentive, to vary how they govern and who they govern for, depending on how political influence is distributed throughout the citizenry.

I argue that considering the economic status of various groups in society is an important and often overlooked aspect of representation. Economic status is linked closely with economic need, which is especially important for the disadvantaged and may be difficult to measure by relying on issue positions or priorities gathered from opinion surveys. Income affects the types of government programs people are influenced by and rely on; for example, welfare, health care, and public housing policies are more likely to directly influence the poor while those with higher economic status are unlikely to encounter any of these programs. This suggests that different levels of political activity by various groups in society can have an influence on lawmakers' decisions regarding how to address certain issues.

To assess the influence of unequal participation on public policy I examine various stages of the policy process, including policy outcomes and issue agenda setting in the states. Few studies have assessed the effect of inequalities in participation on the public policy, and research assessing the link between inequality and policy has almost entirely overlooked the potential effects of unequal participation on agenda setting. This research explores whether states with higher economic inequalities in political participation have policies that are less likely to be beneficial to disadvantaged groups. Both policy outcomes and issue agendas are examined to fully understand the consequences of political inequality in the American states.


inequality, political participation, public policy, state politics


xii, 178 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 168-178).


Copyright 2012 William Franko