Understanding Perceptions of Others’ Civic Abilities

Democracy is closer to its ideal when it is more open, accessible, and representative. However, everyone does not participate equally in politics. Upper-income and more highly educated people are more likely to participate. This is a problem, because in many advanced democracies, it is only the preferences of the wealthiest that are reflected in public policy. How, then, do the voices of others matter in governance?

One solution might be democratic innovations that encourage coalitions among lower-income people. However, many things hinder such coalitions, from people choosing to attend to other aspects of their lives, given the small likelihood that their individual actions will matter, to long-standing racism that prevents workers from seeing common cause.

There is yet another barrier: people’s lack of faith in each other. That lack of faith is undoubtedly fed by racism, but knowing that is not enough. We need to know about the contours of this lack of faith in order to address it. In contemporary politics, there is much criticism of lower-income or working-class whites voting for Republican candidates—in other words, supposedly voting against their interests.

But contemporary commentary seldom stops to consider how these voters regard their counterparts on the left.

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