Redistribution and Responsiveness: Do Governments Represent Middle Class Voter Demand?

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW2.1.04 (Tower Two)
Ursula Dallinger, University Trier, Trier, Germany
Rising market inequality in the past decades has been attenuated by governmental market correcting policies. Yet, inequality finally rose, but due to redistributive policies less severe (Bradley et al. 2003; Kenworthy 2004; Pontusson 2005; Beramendi/Cusack 2008; Iversen/Soskice 2009). Political economy of redistribution and comparative welfare state research offer explanations for these “market correcting policies” which all start from the basic assumptions, that a) democracy necessarily makes governments responsive to voter demands; otherwise they would not be reelected. b) In a democracy the political demands of the middle class or median voter must be heard, since its numerical majority makes them powerful. This is the basis of the classical and much criticized median voter approach to whom increasingly unequal market outcomes make the median voter claim more government redistribution to avoid his social decline; a more leftist “politics against market approach” conceives the middle class as the coalition partner of the “poor” with the power necessary to realize their distributive interests in cross-class coalitions. Responsiveness of government and middle class coalitions constitute the core of redistribution theory.

However, scholars increasingly doubt government responsiveness. This lack of democratic responsiveness is seen to originate in influential business organizations (Bartels 2006, Hacker/Pierson 2010) or in the ways in which the political institutions transform voter demand and direct the middle class’ coalitional interests. Especially electoral institutions are important explanations on how middle class or median voter demand gets transformed into politics (McDonald/Budge 2005; Iversen/Soskice 2006; Warwick 2011). Majoritarian or proportional majority rules result in different representation quality and set different incentives for the middle class and the coalitions it seeks.

Starting from this literature, the paper examines the gap between electorate and government and the role of middle class coalitions:

-       How much are preferences of the electorate and especially of the middle class voter taken into account by governments?

-       Is the quality of responsiveness actually distinct in majoritarian and proportional systems – meaning better representation of the median voters political position? Do proportional election systems indeed generate more left coalitions?

-       Which other features of the political systems explain the size of “deviations” of governments from the voter’s political preferences?

-       How likely are cross-class coalitions between the middle class and the poor? The paper shows that the middle class seeks different coalitions, also conservative ones.

-       What are the drawbacks of the data and which further research is needed?

Finally the consequences for redistribution accounts are discussed. The analysis is based on data provided by the Comparative Manifesto Project (CMP)/ MARPOR (WZB) and survey-data from ISSP or ESS. Descriptive and multivariate methods are applied.