Elections, Public Opinion and PartiesDo people's explanations for inequality shape their appraisals of the political system?

A cross-national team of researchers, including Joe Greenwood-Hau and Stefanie Reher from the School of Government & Public Policy, have won a competition by the Elections, Public Opinion & Parties specialist group of the Political Studies Association to field survey questions for a new research project via YouGov. The research team, which also includes Alona Dolinsky (Johns Hopkins University) and Christine Stedtnitz (London School of Economics), is investigating whether people's beliefs about the reasons for inequality shape their appraisals of the political system in Britain.

Some people believe that individual traits, such as hard work and ambition, are responsible for social and economic inequality, whilst other people believe that it is driven by structural factors such as people’s gender, ethnicity, and parental background. Beliefs about why some people get ahead whilst others do not relate to views about whether society is meritocratic, and thus whether inequality is fair or needs to be tackled by political decision-makers. As a result, a person’s beliefs about the sources of inequality are likely to influence how responsive they perceive governments and political leaders to be, not least because many politicians can be seen as the beneficiaries of privilege.

The research team will ask survey respondents about their explanations for inequality and their appraisals of the political system to analyse whether the two are related. In order to identify the causal relationship between the two, they will randomly change the order in which respondents answer these questions. The research will help us understand whether people who see society as meritocratic rather than unfairly unequal have less negative appraisals of politics. This has important implications for how we talk about both the hard work and long hours that politicians put into their jobs, and the privilege that has helped many of them to obtain their positions.