Reconsidering the Middle: A Reply to Martin Gilens by Peter K. Enns


Martin Gilens and I agree that because of their similar policy preferences, both median-income and affluent respondents “fairly often get the policies they favor.” We also agree that “democracy by coincidence” can hold normatively concerning implications (refer to both of our conclusions). We disagree, however, on the extent and implications of this coincidental representation. In his reply, Gilens states, “There simply is not enough coincidence of policy outcomes and middle-class preferences to justify the conclusion that middle-income Americans are likely to be satisfied with the policies their government adopts.” First, I should clarify that I am not arguing that median-income Americans are consistently satisfied with government policies. My partisanship analysis suggested that between 2000 and 2004, median-income (and perhaps affluent) respondents who identified as strong Democrats should generally not have been satisfied with the policies adopted. My claim is that those in the economic middle should generally be about as satisfied with policy outcomes as the affluent. Interestingly, Gilens’ response supports this claim. Although Gilens concludes that “the affluent are twice as likely to see the policies they strongly favored adopted,” we must remember that this conclusion comes from an analysis of a narrow subset (5.1 percent) of his data. If the rate of policy congruence for middle-income respondents equaled that of the affluent for these proposed policies, we would only expect 20 different policy outcomes between 1981 and 2004, which represents just 1.1 percent of the proposed policies in the data. [Read more.]

Reconsidering the Middle: A Reply to Martin Gilens by Peter K. Enns / Perspectives on Politics / Volume 13 / Issue 04 / December 2015, pp 1072-1074