“Imperfect representation: Perceptions of inequality among politicians and citizens” – 15 February 2024


Recent research suggest that citizens are not very accurate in estimating the level of inequality in their country and that their perceptions are biased by ideological beliefs as well as influenced by socio-demographics. These findings are worrisome given their relevance for more down-stream attitudes towards redistribution and the vote. But what about political elites? Do they distort perceptions of inequality to the same extent as citizens? Research shows that indeed, politicians sometimes even exert more bias in how they see the world and that their positions on redistribution and fairness of inequality are not well aligned with those of their voters. In this paper, we take a more detailed look at how local political elites in Switzerland perceive inequality based on an innovative measure of perceptions of inequality. We compare their answers to those of citizens on the same topic as well as to the objective reality to gauche the size of the error they commit in their perceptions. In a next step we aim to explain their perceptions with a special focus on potential differences in the strength of explanations between the two groups.

Elisa Volpi is Assistant Professor of Comparative Politics at Franklin University Switzerland.