Inequality In The Worst Of Times: Recessions And Public Concern For Income Inequality In Europe And The United States

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The onset of the Great Recession has brought income inequality to the forefront of political debate in many democracies, although rising inequality can be traced back to the early 1980s. To account for this heightened concern, I develop a model of attitude formation on inequality that highlights the role of macroeconomic evaluations in influencing how citizens view income inequality. Specifically, I argue that economic evaluations are correlated with tolerance for income inequality at the individual-level. Consequently, as opinions on the macroeconomy decline, public opposition to income inequality increases. I contend that this relationship between economic evaluations and inequality attitudes is linked with citizens' beliefs about economic agency, and whether large income differences are attributable to circumstances that are beyond individuals' control. Leveraging cross-national and panel survey analyses, as well as comparative case studies, my findings underscore three areas in which conventional models of political economy fall short in describing inequality dynamics. Contrary to these models, I find that a) the rich and poor react similarly to inequality as their economic evaluations deteriorate; b) economic evaluations matter most as heuristics for those with ambivalent opinions on the income gap; and c) attitudes on inequality demonstrate meaningful variation over the short-run. My analysis underscores the existence of a "redistribution paradox," whereby the periods that produce the greatest intolerance amongst citizens for income inequality are also the periods during which the economic resources needed to close the income gap are most scarce.

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Comparative Politics; European Politics; Income Inequality


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Union Local


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Anderson, Christopher J

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Way, Christopher Robert
Tarrow, Sidney G
Rueda, David

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Ph. D., Government

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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