Social Class and Political Participation

March 1, 2013

One outcome of deepening income inequalities is unequal influence in the money-driven political system.    This week, Demos releasedtheir report Stacked Deck: How the Dominance of the Affluent and Business Undermines Social Mobility detailing how exactly this happens.

We learn, for example, that

During the 2012 election cycle, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson gave a combined $91.8 million to Super PACs.  It would take more than 322,000 average American families donating an equivalent share of their wealth to match the Adelsons’ giving. The Adelsons gave more to shape the 2012 federal elections than all the combined contributions from residents in 12 states.

We learn, also, of of stacked decks in lobbying and congressional testimony, even while the right so often disparages the influence of unions in Democratic platforms:

Indeed, after analyzing a massive volume of organized activity—including $3 billion in spending on lobbying and 12,000 congressional testimonies—the authors find that “social welfare” and labor organization accounted for just 2 percent of all activity aimed at influencing policymaking. Corporations, along with trade associations and business groups, accounted for 48 percent.

We learn also that low-income citizens are less likely to vote or to otherwise participate in public life,  for complex reasons:

The scholars explain major differences in civic participation by socioeconomic status by pointing to the greater resources that affluent Americans bring to this sphere, including: knowledge and skills of how politics works; money to contribute to campaigns and location in social networks that can facilitate participation. The affluent also have a greater sense of efficacy and are more likely to believe that their voices will be heard in civic life.

Knowledge and skills for political participation is our work as  educators.   Teaching people the myriad of ways that voices can be heard — in and beyond the voting booth — is at the core of our work as educators.

We can at least begin there.

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