«Nicholas Carnes Sanford School of Public Policy Duke University nicholas.carnes Noam Lupu Department of Political Science University of ...»
Then again, there are also reasons to be skeptical that voters are to blame. For one, there are many other plausible explanations: voter biases are by no means necessary to explain the shortage of candidates from the working class. Workers might be less qualified. Those who are qualified might be less likely to run; they might have less political interest or ambition, less free time and slack income, and/or less encouragement from gatekeepers like political parties and interest groups. And these differences in qualifications or candidate entry might themselves be driven by larger structural phenomena like rising campaign costs, the strength of labor unions, political party configurations, institutional rules, or the interest group landscape. Voters might help to explain why so few workers hold office, but they are not the only possible suspects: it is easy to imagine a host of factors that could be screening working-class people out of the candidate pipeline long before voters ever have a say.
There are also reasons to doubt that voters truly prefer more affluent candidates. Voters might assume that any candidate who stands for office has already been vetted by party leaders, funders, and other gatekeepers regardless of their class. And like the less fortunate, there are also prejudices and negative stereotypes about the privileged that might come into play during an election. The rich are often seen as out-of-touch, cold, and aloof (e.g., Fiske et al 1999).
Much of what we know about elections, moreover, should give us some pause on this point. Voters tend to prefer politicians who they feel understand their problems and who share their views about public policy (e.g., Jacobson 2012). If people feel a sense of shared identity with candidates from the same social class, or if they worry that candidates from other social classes do not understand their problems, share their concerns, or support their preferred policies, voters might not exhibit a blanket bias against working-class candidates. To the contrary, voters might be divided along ideological or social class lines—more conservative or affluent voters might tend to oppose working-class candidates, and more liberal or working-class voters might tend to support them.
For their part, candidates in many countries often behave as though they think economic or social class privilege is not an electoral slam dunk. Many work hard to downplay their advantages, sometimes going so far as to engage in what the historian Edward Pessen (1984) refers to as “poor-mouthing”—deliberately exaggerating the economic adversities they have faced. There are good reasons to suspect that voter biases might be responsible for the worldwide shortage of politicians from the working class, but there are also good reasons to doubt that voters are really to blame.
As it stands, there is little direct evidence on this question. Only a handful of studies have ever examined how voters feel about working-class candidates. And to date, all of them have focused exclusively on the US, which raises obvious questions about whether their findings generalize to other countries where workers are similarly underrepresented.
Moreover, the few previous studies on this topic have had important methodological limitations. Some have used observational data, which suffer from obvious selection bias problems. Carnes (2013), for instance, finds that members of the U.S. Congress who spent more time in working-class jobs receive about as many votes as members who worked in white-collar professions. But it might be that members of Congress from the working class face biases at the polls but overcome them somehow: perhaps, for instance, only the very best working-class candidates run, which gives the appearance that working-class candidates do about as well as others. Other research has avoided this selection problem by asking voters to evaluate hypothetical candidates, which allows the researcher to randomize the candidate’s class while holding other candidate attributes constant. To date, however, the candidate evaluation experiments that have included working-class candidates (e.g., Sadin 2012; Carnes and Sadin
2015) have relied on experiments that ask respondents to evaluate just one hypothetical candidate, not experiments that ask respondents to choose between multiple candidates, the way voters do in real elections. 5 When they are not presented with other options, the voters in these studies seem comfortable with working-class candidates, but voters may behave differently when they have choices.
Voter biases could be responsible for the shortage of politicians from the working class, but scholars simply do not have much hard evidence on this point. To our knowledge, there have never been any studies on this topic outside of the United States, and even in the US we know of no causally-identified research on how working-class candidates perform in contested elections.
Campbell and Cowley’s (2014b) recent work in Britain included an evaluation of whether voters viewed candidates from different occupations differently. However, their work compared voter attitudes about candidates from different white-collar jobs (like attorney and career politician); their study did not include a hypothetical candidate from the working class. The same was true for Hainmueller et al.’s (2014) recent work on voters in the US; they compared hypothetical candidates from different white-collar jobs but did not include working-class candidates.
If we want to know whether voter biases are responsible for the global descriptive underrepresentation of the working class, we need to start studying how voters around the world think about working-class candidates when they make choices on Election Day.
To that end, we fielded a series of candidate choice experiments embedded in nationally representative surveys in Britain, the US, and Argentina. The British experiment was fielded in the May/June 2014 wave of the 2015 British Election Study, a large survey administered online by YouGov to a representative sample of over 30,000 British citizens. Our questions were administered to a random subset of 5,552 respondents. The US experiment was fielded in May 2015 to a random subset of 1,000 US respondents in the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a 50,000-person national stratified sample survey administered by YouGov/Polimetrix.
And the Argentina experiment was fielded to 1,149 respondents in June and July of 2015 in the first wave of the 2015 Argentine Panel Election Study, a face-to-face survey administered by MBC MORI. 6 Candidate choice experiments are useful because they avoid the pitfalls of examining observational data on elections, where a candidate’s social class background might be correlated with many other factors that influence the results of the election. If we want to know whether voters are really biased against candidates from the working class, we need to be sure that those other factors are not confounding our analysis. Conjoint candidate choice experiments—in which researchers ask voters to choose between two hypothetical candidates, randomizing certain aspects of the candidates’ backgrounds or positions—give us one way to identify the causal In all of our analyses, we reweighted respondents using the weight variables created by the survey firm.
effect of a candidate’s class on how voters evaluate the candidate (Hainmueller et al. 2014, 2015).
And Britain, the US, and Argentina were ideal settings for carrying out these experiments. In all three countries—like in most democracies—working-class people are numerically underrepresented in political institutions by several orders of magnitude. As Table 1 shows, in the US, working-class people make up over half of the labor force, but the average member of Congress spent less than 2 percent of his or her precongressional career in workingclass jobs. In Britain, manual labor, service industry, and clerical occupations make up roughly half of the labor force as well, but just 4 percent of Members of Parliament are drawn from similar jobs. In Argentina, only 5 percent of national Deputies in 2000-2001 came from workingclass backgrounds, compared to roughly 70 percent of the general public. In all three countries, some political or social process is leading workers to be drastically underrepresented in public office.
More importantly, these three countries differ substantially in terms of socioeconomic and political factors that may condition how voters behave. As Table 1 illustrates, Argentina is a much newer democracy than Britain or the US. The political systems of these countries run the gamut from presidential to parliamentary, majoritarian to proportional, and two-party to multiparty systems. Partly as a result of these systemic differences, these countries also use very different methods to select political candidates, which can in turn affect candidate entry and vote choice (e.g., Carey and Shugart 1995; Katz and Mair 2001; Norris 1997). While British candidates are selected almost exclusively by party leaders, political candidates in the US typically have to win an open primary to run for office on a major party ticket, and Argentina employs a mixed system. The three countries also vary substantially in socioeconomic terms.
Unionization rates are far higher in Britain and Argentina than in the US, one likely reason that class is more politically salient in Britain and Argentina. Obviously, Argentina is also less developed in economic and human development terms. And workers are also a much larger proportion of the labor force in Argentina than in the other two countries.
Taken together, these three cases cover a wide range of the variation on these political and socioeconomic variables that might affect how voters respond to candidate’ class backgrounds. If we find similar results across these very different contexts, we can be fairly confident that those results are not just unique to one country, one region, or one set of political institutions (Slater and Ziblatt 2013). We can also be confident that it is not these contextual differences that are driving our results (Gerring 2007).
Cooperative election surveys were also conducted in 2014 and 2015 in all three of these countries, which made it possible for us to carry out reliable, context-appropriate studies of voters’ political attitudes. The US, Britain, and Argentina were methodologically convenient places to conduct survey experiments, and collectively they were also a substantively ideal sample for exploring whether voter biases are behind the shortage of working-class politicians in the world’s democracies.
In our candidate choice experiments, we presented survey respondents with short vignettes about two hypothetical candidates running for a local political office. Unbeknownst to the respondents, within each candidate’s biography, we randomly varied four characteristics: the candidate’s gender (male or female), occupation (working-class or white-collar), education level (secondary school or college in the US and Britain 7; primary school or secondary school in Of course, respondents who hear that a candidate completed secondary school could still wrongly infer that the candidate later went on to complete college (and that the vignette simply omitted that information), thereby Argentina), and party affiliation (Labour or Conservative in Britain; Democrat or Republican in the US; Peronist [PJ] or Radical [UCR] in Argentina). In the US version of the study, we also varied each candidate’s race (white or black) and the office the two candidates were competing for (city council, state legislature, mayor, or governor). And in the Argentina version of the experiment, we varied the amount of prior political experience the candidate had (no experience or three years holding an appointed office). The complete text of the three experiments is provided in the appendix. 8 In our conjoint experimental design, we randomly varied each of these attributes independently for each of the two candidates. 9 This allowed us to simultaneously measure (and compare) the independent effect of each characteristic (Hainmueller et al. 2014). That is, by randomizing each candidate’s occupational background and the candidate’s gender, education, party, race (US only), and experience (Argentina only), we can compare the effect of having a working-class job to the effect of being a woman, more educated, a Tory/Republican/Radical, a black candidate (US only), and a novice politician (Argentina only). Moreover, by randomizing each attribute independently, we could ensure that our respondents were not conflating different attributes, e.g., that respondents hearing about a business owner were not inferring (or being told) that she was a Republican, too.
obscuring any effects of education. To check that this process was not affecting our findings, we re-ran our main models for the US and Britain using only cases in which the two candidates had different education levels (and in which respondents are therefore most likely to interpret the experimental manipulation on education the way we intended). The results—reported in Table A9 in the online appendix—were substantively similar to our main findings.
The non-randomized text in each experiment was not exactly symmetric across candidates (e.g., in Britain, the first candidate’s last name was always Simmons, and the second candidate’s last name was always Allen). These nonsymmetric profiles more closely mirror the real world of campaigns (when voters learn demographic information about candidates, it is usually nested in larger narratives that usually are not symmetric, which we have tried to mimic here) but do not affect our estimates (since each trait—e.g. being a factory work—was equally likely to be randomly assigned to each profile).
In other words, the Britain experiment had eight random variables (four characteristics for each candidate), the US experiment had eleven (five characteristics for each candidate plus the level of office), and the Argentina experiment had ten (five characteristics for each candidate).