Category Archives: Policy

Most Popular CPS Blog Posts in 2018

Post developed by Katherine Pearson

Since its establishment in 2013, a total of 146 posts have appeared on the Center for Political Studies (CPS) Blog. As we approach the new year, we look back at 2018’s most-viewed recent posts. Listed below are the recent posts that you found most interesting on the blog this year.

Farris and Eck

Crime in Sweden: What the Data Tell Us 

By Christopher Fariss and Kristine Eck (2017)

Debate persists inside and outside of Sweden regarding the relationship between immigrants and crime in Sweden. But what can the data actually tell us? Shouldn’t it be able to identify the pattern between the number of crimes committed in Sweden and the proportion of those crimes committed by immigrants? The answer is complicated by the manner in which the information about crime is collected and catalogued. This is not just an issue for Sweden but any country interested in providing security to its citizens. Ultimately though, there is no information that supports the claim that Sweden is experiencing an “epidemic.”

Read the full post here.

Negativity in Debate Speeches, By Political Party, 1976-2016Exploring the Tone of the 2016 Campaign

By undergraduate students Megan Bayagich, Laura Cohen, Lauren Farfel, Andrew Krowitz, Emily Kuchman, Sarah Lindenberg, Natalie Sochacki, and Hannah Suh, and their professor Stuart Soroka, all from the University of Michigan. (2017)

The 2016 election campaign seems to many to have been one of the most negative campaigns in recent history. The authors explore negativity in the campaign – focused on debate transcripts and Facebook-distributed news content – and share their observations.

Read the full post here.

Parental LeaveAttitudes Toward Gender Roles Shape Support for Family Leave Policies

By Solmaz Spence (2017)

In almost half of two-parent households in the United States, both parents work full-time. Yet when a baby is born, it is still new moms who take the most time off work. On average, new mothers take 11 weeks off work while new dads take just one week, according to a 2016 survey carried out by the Pew Research Center. In part, that is because many new fathers in the U.S. don’t have access to paid paternity leave. Paid maternity leave is rare, too: in fact, the U.S. is the only developed nation that does not provide a national paid family leave program to new parents.

Read the full post here.

The Spread of Mass SurveillanceThe Spread of Mass Surveillance, 1995 to Present 

By Nadiya Kostyuk and Muzammil M. Hussain (2017)

By closely investigating all known cases of state-backed cross-sector surveillance collaborations, the authors’ findings demonstrate that the deployment of mass surveillance systems by states has been globally increasing throughout the last twenty years. More importantly, from 2006-2010 to present, states have uniformly doubled their surveillance investments compared with the previous decade.

Read the full post here.

gerrymanderingRedrawing the Map: How Jowei Chen is Measuring Partisan Gerrymandering 

By Solmaz Spence (2018)

“Gerrymandering”— when legislative maps are drawn to the advantage of one party over the other during redistricting—received its name in 1812, when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry signed off on a misshapen district that was said to resemble a salamander, which a newspaper dubbed a “gerrymander.”

But although the idea of gerrymandering has been around for a while, proving that a state’s legislature has deliberately skewed district lines to benefit one political party remains challenging.

Read the full post here.

American ElectorateInside the American Electorate: The 2016 ANES Time Series Study 

By Catherine Allen-West, Megan Bayagich, and Ted Brader (2017)

Since 1948, the ANES- a collaborative project between the University of Michigan and Stanford University- has conducted benchmark election surveys on voting, public opinion, and political participation. To learn more about the study, we asked Ted Brader (University of Michigan professor of political science and one of the project’s principal investigators) a few questions about the anticipated release.

Read the full post here.

Party IDUnderstanding the Changing American Electorate 

By Catherine Allen-West (2018)

The American National Election Studies (ANES) has surveyed American citizens before and after every presidential election since 1948.  The survey provides the public with a rigorous, non-partisan scientific basis for studying change over time in American politics.

The interactive graphs in this post illustrate the changing American electorate and some of the factors that may motivate voters’ choices at the ballot box.

Read the full post here.

TwitterUsing Twitter to Observe Election Incidents in the United States 

By Catherine Allen-West (2017)

Election forensics is the field devoted to using statistical methods to determine whether the results of an election accurately reflect the intentions of the electors. Problems in elections that are not due to fraud may stem from legal or administrative decisions. Some examples of concerns that may distort turnout or vote choice data are long wait times, crowded polling place conditions, bad ballot design and location of polling stations relative to population.

Read the full post here.

InequalityInequality is Always in the Room: Language and Power in Deliberative Democracy 

By Catherine Allen-West (2017)

In a paper presented at the 2017 APSA meeting, Arthur Lupia, University of Michigan, and Anne Norton, University of Pennsylvania, explore the effectiveness of deliberative democracy by examining the  foundational communicative acts that take place during deliberation.

Read the full post here.

ElliottMaking Education Work for the Poor: The Potential of Children’s Savings Accounts 

By Katherine Pearson (2018)

Dr. William Elliott contends that we need a revolution in the way we finance college education. His new book Making Education Work for the Poor, written with Melinda Lewis, takes a hard look at the inequalities in access to education, and how these inequalities are threatening the American dream. Elliott and Lewis present data and analyses outlining problems plaguing the system of student loans, while also proposing children’s savings accounts as a robust solution to rising college costs, skyrocketing debt burdens, and growing wealth inequality. In a presentation at the University of Michigan on October 3, 2018, Elliott presented new research supporting the case for children’s savings accounts and rewards card programs.

Read the full post here.

Is policy driven by the rich, or does government respond to all?

Post created by Catherine Allen-West based on research presented by Benjamin Page and Christopher Wlezien at the Center for Political Studies Interdisciplinary Workshop on Politics and Policy.

With the U.S. Presidential Election just a day away, both campaigns have amped up their rhetoric to solidify support among their bases. Hillary Clinton is making her case for bringing America together and Donald Trump is using his platform to rally against a rigged system.

Trump’s claims of a rigged, or out-of-touch, political system seems to resonate with his base, a group of Americans that feel ignored and underrepresented by their current leaders. These sentiments are not just unique to Republicans. During the primaries, Bernie Sanders gained mass appeal with progressive Democrats as he trumpeted the idea that wealthy donors exert far too much influence on the U.S. political system.

The enthusiasm for both Trump and Sanders’ messages about the influence of money in politics brings up an important question: Is policy driven by the rich, or does government respond to all? Political scientists have long been interested in identifying to what degree wealth drives policy, but not all agree on it’s impact.


Benjamin Page, Northwestern University Professor of Decision Making, and Christopher Wlezien, Professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin, have both conducted illuminating research on the influence of affluent Americans on policy change. Recently, Page and Wlezien discussed their latest findings at the University of Michigan’s Center for Political Studies. The two scientists drew on results from their own work as well as analysis of data from Martin Gilens. The Gilens data is unique, in that, it documents public opinion on 1,800 issues from high, middle and low income groups over a long period of time (1964-2006).

Page and Wlezien looked at the same data but the results of their analyses produced two opposite viewpoints. Page contends that when it comes to policy change, average citizens are being thwarted by America’s “truly affluent”- multi-millionaires and billionaires- who are much more likely to see their preferences reflected in policy decisions. By comparison, Wlezien suggests that there isn’t pervasive disagreement or major inequality of representation between groups and that a large driver of policy change is the convergence of preferences between groups. In other words, when groups agree on an issue, policy change is most successful.


Affluence and Influence

First, it’s important to know what the Gilens data says about how much influence an average American has on policy. According to Page, average citizens have little influence even when a policy is clearly supported by a majority of Americans. He illustrated his point with the graph below. Even when 80% of average Americans favor a policy change, they’re only getting it about 40% of the time.

Predicted probability of policy adoption (dark lines, left axes) by policy disposition; the distribution of preferences (gray columns, right axes)

Predicted probability of policy adoption (dark lines, left axes) by policy disposition; the distribution of preferences (gray columns, right axes). Source: Gilens, M. and Page, B.I. (2014) ‘Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens’, Perspectives on Politics, 12(3), pp. 564–581. doi: 10.1017/S1537592714001595.

This is extremely important, Page says, because “in a changing world when policy change, in many people’s minds, is really needed on a whole bunch of areas” the public’s influence is being thwarted in a major way. Furthermore, Page argues that a small group of top income earners in America are more likely to see their preferences reflected in policy change, by a large margin.


Source: Gilens, M. and Page, B.I. (2014) ‘Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens’, Perspectives on Politics, 12(3), pp. 564–581. doi: 10.1017/S1537592714001595.

Wlezien’s analysis paints a different picture:


Wlezien used Gilens’ data (in a forthcoming paper, When do the Rich Win?) to assess congruence between policy decisions and preferences for that policy across income groups. His results show that when the rich want something, the middle and the poor are more likely to want it as well, reiterating his claim that policy change does not favor one income group over another in a significant way. Additionally, even when the middle and high income groups disagree, Wlezien contends that “it’s still a coin flip as to whether the policy passes or not.”

Policy Support for High and Middle Income Groups

Policy Support for High and Middle Income Groups: Wlezien found, that across all of the issues from the Gilens data, there is little disagreement or inequality between group preferences reflected in policy change.

That’s not to say there’s total equality among all income groups.  According to Wlezien’s analysis, it’s the poor who are losing out most of the time when it comes to their preferences being reflected in policy change. In fact, when the poor by themselves favor a policy, it has the lowest rate of success at 18.6%. To put that in perspective, when NO ONE favors a policy, the policy still has a 23.8% passing success rate.


This is a recurring theme. As Wlezien points in the clip above,  middle and high income group policy preferences are relatively similar most of the time, the real difference is between those two groups and the lower income group.

Democracy by Coincidence

If it’s the case the average Americans agree with affluent Americans a majority of the time, maybe their lack of influence doesn’t matter that much. If ordinary Americans are getting what they want a good amount of the time, should they care if the affluent truly do wield more influence?

Page says yes, they should absolutely care and here’s why:


Furthermore, Page argues that what “the truly wealthy”- multi-millionaires and billionaires -want from government policy is quite different from what average people do.

While Page and Wlezien clearly offer two different takeaways from this data, they both agree that the influence of money in politics deserves further research to parse out who, if anyone, is being thwarted by the current political process and to identify the ways all citizens can ensure that the government responds equally to their needs.

WATCH: Benjamin Page and Christopher Wlezien Discuss Research on Policy Responsiveness to Average Americans

Related Links:

Book: Degrees of Democracy by Stuart Soroka and Christopher Wlezien

Website: Degrees of Democracy

Book: Who Gets Represented? Peter K. Enns and Christopher Wlezien, editors, Russell Sage Foundation.

Critics argues with our analysis of U.S. political inequality. Here are 5 ways they’re wrong” by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, Washington Post, May 23, 2016.

Gilens, M. and Page, B.I. (2014) ‘Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens’, Perspectives on Politics, 12(3), pp. 564–581. doi: 10.1017/S1537592714001595.