Elaine Denny

Political Behavior, Poverty and Inequality, Political Psychology, Social Movements, Social Norms, American Politics, Comparative Politics, Experimental Methods

Dissertation Title: Poverty and the Psychology of Political (In)Action

Description: Poor people in the United States consistently vote at lower rates than wealthier cohorts, and social movements both in the US and abroad often are comprised more of middle and upper-class citizens rather than the poor – even when the movement’s objectives are specifically socio-economic.  While the poor face more structural barriers to participation, structural barriers alone have been insufficient to explain this participation gap.  Psychology, cognitive science, and behavioral economics have shown that stress – and specifically financial stress – has systematic effects on decision-making.  In my dissertation, I show that these behavioral insights have measurable consequences for political participation, especially when resources are scarce. Using a combination of lab experiments and nationally representative surveys, I find that financial stress taxes cognitive bandwidth, driving a gap between political interest and political action.  I use geospatial and field experiment data to demonstrate how mobilization efforts can overcome this Good Intention Gap, significantly elevating rates of political action among the poor.

Committee: Emilie Hafner-Burton (Chair), James Fowler, Stephan Haggard, Craig McIntosh, Barbara Walter