Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

Document Type



The economy is a prominent talking-point in American politics, as it influences a myriad of factors in everyday life (Hopkins 2012; Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier 2015). Whereas many issues studied in political science may be less observable or have more of an indirect effect on people’s daily lives, certain economic conditions—such as unemployment—hit closer to home and are more observable among the public (Ansolabehere, Meredith, and Snowberg 2014). Americans have deeply rooted beliefs about economic opportunity, espoused in the American Dream, but there remains a debate regarding Americans’ (in)ability to translate economic conditions into accurate economic perceptions, and whether economic conditions and perceptions affect Americans’ poverty and wealth attributions. A better understanding of the connection between these factors, and their relation to redistributive policy preferences, is warranted. Throughout this dissertation, consisting of three separate (but related) studies, I explore the relationship between objective economic conditions, national economic perceptions, and Americans’ poverty and wealth attributions. I also assess the relationship between family income, poverty attributions, and redistributive policy preferences.

In Chapter 1, I examine the relationship between national and state unemployment and Americans’ national economic perceptions. I assess the variation in the effects of unemployment on economic perceptions across time (pre- and post-COVID-19 pandemic declaration) and individual characteristics (gender, race/ethnicity, income, education, and political knowledge), finding mixed support for my hypotheses that factors reflective of economic vulnerability and capacity moderate the relationship between economic conditions and economic perceptions. In Chapter 2, I explore the effects of county-level income mobility and national economic perceptions on Americans’ poverty and wealth attributions, finding that income mobility does not shape poverty and wealth attributions, but that Americans’ poverty and wealth attributions are shaped by their national economic perceptions. In Chapter 3, I examine the effects of family income and poverty attributions on support toward raising taxes on high-income Americans and providing tax credits to lower-income workers. I argue and show that self-interest (i.e., family income) is not a sufficient explanation for Americans’ redistributive policy preferences: support for redistribution increases, across income, as individuals increasingly attribute poverty to systemic factors beyond an individual’s control.



Committee Chair

Garand, James C.



Available for download on Thursday, March 21, 2030