American Politics & Public Policy Workshop: Nicholas Carnes, “Who’s Keeping Working-class Americans Out of Office? Political Gatekeepers and the Unequal Social Class Makeup of Government”
“Who’s Keeping Working-class Americans Out of Office? Political Gatekeepers and the Unequal Social Class Makeup of Government”
Speaker: Nicholas Carnes, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, and Co-Director of the Research Triangle chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network
Abstract: Millionaires make up majorities of all three branches of the federal government. Why do so few middle- and working-class Americans go on to hold political office? This paper analyzes data from the National Candidate Study (NCS), a survey of the roughly 10,000 people who ran for state legislature in 2012, and the National Survey of Party Leaders (NSPL), a survey of the roughly 6,000 chairs of the county-level branches of the Republican and Democratic Parties. With these data, I test one hypothesis suggested by research on other historically underrepresented groups, namely, that qualified working-class citizens are less likely to run for office because they are less likely to be encouraged by political gatekeepers like parties, interest groups, and civic leaders. Consistent with this view, working-class candidates in the NCS were less likely to report that gatekeepers encouraged them to run, and party leaders in the NSPL were less likely to report that they encouraged workers or viewed them as qualified to hold office. These findings have important implications for research on descriptive representation and political inequality and for ongoing efforts to increase the political participation of the working class.
Speaker Bio: Nicholas Carnes is Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and the Co-Director of the Research Triangle chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network. His research focuses on U.S. politics, legislative decision making, representation, social class, economic inequality, and state and local politics. Carnes’ new book White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making examines how the shortage of people from the working class in American legislatures skews the policymaking process towards outcomes that are more in line with the upper class’s economic interests. He is also starting a large-scale study of the factors that discourage working-class Americans from holding public office and the programs that could help to address the shortage of working-class Americans in our political institutions.