Political Behavior

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 5–30 | Cite as

Durable Democracy? Economic Inequality and Democratic Accountability in the New Gilded Age

  • Benjamin J. Newman
  • Thomas J. HayesEmail author
Original Paper


Scholarship in the U.S. provides mounting evidence of a linkage between economic inequality and inequality in representation and policymaking. In response, this article addresses a research question striking at the very heart of the resilience of the democratic capitalist design: Do voters punish elected officials for inequality? We advance the argument that voter punishment of incumbents for inequality will occur when inequality is locally salient and for officeholders that support inequality-enhancing legislation. Relying upon secondary analysis of large-N national survey data, we find that voters residing in high inequality contexts voted against incumbents who supported regressive tax policies and opposed minimum wage increases. Interestingly, for inequality-attenuating incumbents, we find increased support among voters in high inequality contexts. Importantly, robustness checks reveal that observed punishment effects hold for Democratic and Republican incumbents. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for American democracy in an era of rising inequality.


Income inequality Electoral behavior Accountability 



The authors would like to thank Christopher Johnston and John Kane for comments on earlier versions of the paper. The authors would also like to thank Cliff Vickrey for assistance in data collection. Data and code needed for replication is available on the Harvard Dataverse

Supplementary material

11109_2017_9435_MOESM1_ESM.docx (96 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 95 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of California, RiversideRiversideUSA
  2. 2.University of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

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