Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

Document Type



Economic inequality has been on the rise in the United States for decades, as has political polarization. Pulling from grievance theory and relative deprivation theory, I explore the relationship between these two trends, predicting economic inequality may actually contribute to citizen polarization. I also predict that polarization of identities, issue opinions, and feelings towards groups polarize differently. In this study I test using linear regression analysis and data primarily from the American National Election Study whether income inequality and perceived growth of the income gap over 20 years affect ideological, substantive, and affective polarization from 2004-2016. I also examine the nature of polarization across several measurements and over time. I find mild evidence of polarization brought on by inequality, and even more evidence of leftward shifts from members of both parties. Furthermore, these results are stronger for issues and groups closely related to inequality. Though economic inequality trends show no signs of abating any time soon, these results suggest that partisans actually converge on opinions and feelings more often than expected, meaning the public may similarly support policies addressing the problems that cause inequality.



Committee Chair

Kenny, Christopher



Available for download on Friday, November 01, 2024