The Woodrow Wilson Award is given for the best book on government, politics, or international affairs. The award is sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation at Princeton University. The Recipients are Ben W. Ansell, University of Oxford, and David J. Samuels, University of Minnesota for Inequality and Democratization: An Elite-Competition Approach, Cambridge University Press.
This book challenges a central piece of conventional wisdom in political science—that economic inequality hurts the prospects for democracy. Greater inequality is supposed to increase demands for redistribution among the majority of citizens, which makes elites less willing to expand the franchise or otherwise relinquish power. The fundamental conflict is between haves and have-nots. In contrast, Ansell and Samuels maintain that “regime change does not emerge from autocratic elites’ fear that the poor would expropriate their wealth under democracy. It instead results when politically disenfranchised yet rising economy groups seek to rein in the power of autocratic elites to expropriate their income and assets.”
The committee read a number of outstanding books this year, from all major sub-fields of the discipline. The authors asked big questions and marshalled substantial evidence to provide an answer. In the end, we favored arguments that had the potential to “travel” widely, beyond a specific place, time, or part of government. If the book could shed light on issues that mattered beyond the academy, so much the better. Inequality and Democratization passed both of these tests with flying colors, and we congratulate Ben Ansell and David Samuels for their tremendous accomplishment.
Thanks to the Award Committee: Chris Howard, College of William & Mary, chair; Simone Chambers, University of Toronto; and Christina Schneider, University of California, San Diego.