The readings this week cover topics related to group representation, interest groups, and political equality. Bartels findings reflect economic inequality in American democracy by demonstrating that U.S. senators in the 1980s and 1990s paid much higher attention to the concerns of constituents in the upper third of income earners (254). This was true for Democrats and Republicans regardless of differences between high and low-income constituents' turnout, political knowledge, or contact with elected officials (280). Bartels also found that while the concerns of the upper third received about 50% more weight than the middle third, that the views of constituents in the bottom third of income earners received no weight in their senators' voting decisions (254).
These findings are stark and should be disturbing. Verba addresses that while the idea of political equality raises certain challenges (e.g. difficulty of government to coordinate and address all of the public's needs, inability of uninformed/apathetic citizens to effectively contribute to political process), equality is intrinsically valued in our society (667). Political equality creates a sense of self in individuals and also a sense of community. It enables equal protection of interests and creates legitimacy for the political process.
Cigler and Loomis and Strolovitch focus on interest groups. Cigler and Loomis express that interest groups are a natural part of democracies - that people tend to band together to protect their common interests (2). The problem they raise with interest group politics is a tendency to over-represent specific issues, potentially creating barriers for elected officials to represent collective concerns and find solutions for complex policy issues (28). Strolovitch joins the discussion on the impact of interest groups by arguing that, "organizations are substantially less active when it comes to issues affecting disadvantaged subgroups than they are when it comes to issues affecting more advantaged subgroups" (894).
These readings have made me wonder what the answer is to the issue of creating an equal political environment. If legislators pay little to no attention to the views of lower-income citizens and political interest groups obscure issues important for the common good and at the same time fail to represent disadvantaged groups, what methods are there to empower underrepresented citizens? Is political equality possible?