University of Chicago Press
Journal of Politics
Income inequality is fundamentally relational in nature, but research on the American public’s response to it tends to examine individuals in isolation, concluding that support for redistribution is unresponsive to inequality. We focus instead on perceptions of relative socioeconomic position, which we manipulate experimentally through imagined social interactions with high- or low-status others. We find that subjects who make social comparisons between themselves and someone who is socioeconomically advantaged perceive their own status as lower, assess their own socioeconomic status more accurately, and become more supportive of social welfare spending, even though we provide no factual information about the income distribution to subjects in the experiment. Our findings demonstrate that Americans respond with support for redistribution when conditions facilitate upward social comparison. We argue for a shift in scholarly attention to the structural factors that keep rising upper-tail inequality socially invisible.
Condon, Meghan and Wichowsky, Amber, "Inequality in the Social Mind: Social Comparison and Support for Redistribution" (2020). Political Science Faculty Research and Publications. 81.
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