This book explains a long-standing puzzle in American politics: why so many Americans support downwardly redistributive social welfare programs, when such support seems to fly in the face of standard conceptions of the American public as anti-government, individualistic, and racially prejudiced. Bringing class attitudes into the analysis, Spencer Piston demonstrates through rigorous empirical analysis that sympathy for the poor and resentment of the rich explain American support for downwardly redistributive programs - not only those that benefit the middle class, but also those that explicitly target the poor. The book captures an important and neglected component of citizen attitudes toward a host of major public policies and candidate evaluations. It also explains why government does so little to combat economic inequality; in key instances, political elites downplay class considerations, deactivating sympathy for the poor and resentment of the rich.
Introduction: reigning myths about class attitudes; 1. In their own words; 2. A theory of attitudes toward class groups and their political consequences; 3. Attitudes toward the poor and the rich in the United States; 4. Why so many Americans support downward redistribution; 5. The role of political knowledge; 6. Consequences for vote choice; 7. Why don't politicians listen?; Conclusion: the path behind and the path forward.