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Differential Responsiveness: A first Cross-National Analysis

Open Panel

Abstract

I investigate the extent to which democratic citizens have an equal influence on policy outcomes. Do the latter reflect the preferences of the majority of citizens, as democracy implies, or is it systematically influenced by a powerful elite within the public? Evidence from the United States supports the latter notion: policy change is related only to the policy preferences of the highest incomes. The influence on policy of the preferences of low and medium incomes and, thus, the majority of citizens, appears to be non-existent. Part of the explanation offered by these studies is that the high incomes have disproportionate political power and they therefore dominate the influence the public as a whole has on policy. I call this negative differential responsiveness as policy systematically reflects the preferences of a minority. Democratic Responsiveness is the manifestation of political equality where the preferences of the citizens have an influence on policy and each preference weights equally. When policy reflects the preferences of the majority, this is evidence of positive differential responsiveness. In this paper, I conduct the very first cross-national analysis of differential responsiveness in a substantial number of democratic countries over a considerable period of time. Employing an OLS based approach on a newly created dataset, I investigate whether the policy preferences of a particular income group have disproportionate influence on policy change. I examine this in the universe of social spending which is highly salient to the public as a whole and where preferences differ significantly between income groups. This paper contributes to the literature on (differential) responsiveness and the quality of democracy. The presence of systematic negative differential responsiveness is reason for further research.