The wealthy turnout to vote at a rate of almost 99% while those making below $10,000 vote at a rate of 49%, especially in non-presidential elections. This has an impact on public policy regarding women, children, the elderly and the poor.
There is evidence that this affects the political system. Consider a recent study by David Broockman and Christopher Skovron finds that politicians believe that their constituencies are significantly more conservative than they are. Such a bias should be impossible to sustain – politicians have strong electoral incentives to gauge their constitutents’ views correctly. Once we understand that voters are more conservative than non-voters, the puzzle disappears. Politicians’s real constituents are the people who vote – a disproportionately affluent and conservative slice of the population.
Conversely, where the electorate is less skewed policy outcomes shift left. In a recent study William Franko, Nathan J. Kelly and Christopher Witko find that “where the poor exercise their voice more in the voting booth relative to higher income groups, inequality is lower.” In another study, Franko examined voting gaps and policy outcomes in three areas–minimum wages, anti-predatory lending laws and SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program). He finds that states with smaller voting gaps across incomes had policies more favorable to the poor. States with low turnout inequality have a higher minimum wage, stricter lending laws and more generous health benefits than those with high turnout inequality.
The design and benefit levels of many social safety net programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), are decided at the state level, which provides a natural experiment to test how turnout inequality affects policy. James Avery and Mark Peffley find that, in states with higher rates of low-income voting, politicians were less inclined to pass restrictive eligibility rules for social benefits. Political scientists Kim Hill and Jan Leighley find in two that states with a more pronounced turnout bias, social welfare spending is lower. Thus, the evidence confirms what theory would predict: closing low-income voting gaps is consequential for public policy, in favor of lower-income households.