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American Insecurity

American Insecurity: Why Our Economic Fears Lead to Political Inaction

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    American Insecurity
    Book Description:

    Americans today face no shortage of threats to their financial well-being, such as job and retirement insecurity, health care costs, and spiraling college tuition. While one might expect that these concerns would motivate people to become more politically engaged on the issues, this often doesn't happen, and the resulting inaction carries consequences for political debates and public policy. Moving beyond previously studied barriers to political organization,American Insecuritysheds light on the public's inaction over economic insecurities by showing that the rhetoric surrounding these issues is actually self-undermining. By their nature, the very arguments intended to mobilize individuals-asking them to devote money or time to politics-remind citizens of their economic fears and personal constraints, leading to undermobilization and nonparticipation.

    Adam Seth Levine explains why the set of people who become politically active on financial insecurity issues is therefore quite narrow. When money is needed, only those who care about the issues but are not personally affected become involved. When time is needed, participation is limited to those not personally affected or those who are personally affected but outside of the labor force with time to spare. The latter explains why it is relatively easy to mobilize retirees on topics that reflect personal financial concerns, such as Social Security and Medicare. In general, however, when political representation requires a large group to make their case, economic insecurity threats are uniquely disadvantaged.

    Scrutinizing the foundations of political behavior,American Insecurityoffers a new perspective on collective participation.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5213-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Finance

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. 1 Financial Threats and Self-Undermining Rhetoric
    (pp. 1-34)

    Job loss. Concerns about job security. Skyrocketing health care bills. Inadequate retirement savings. Concerns about Social Security and Medicare. Tuition bills. Unrelenting college loan payments.

    Americans face no shortage of threats to their financial well-being. These threats reflect financial constraints that they presently face or worry that they could face in the future. Some reflect threats to income, during either one’s working years or one’s golden years. Others reflect concerns about the high and growing cost of goods such as health care and higher education. To varying degrees, these threats affect people throughout both the lower and middle reaches of...

  5. 2 Do Americans View Financial Threats as Important Political Issues?
    (pp. 35-80)

    Chapter 1 put forth a puzzle. Even though we have good reason to expect that people would become active on many political issues that reflect financial threats, there are many cases in which we observe limited action.

    In response I proposed that there are heretofore unexamined communicative barriers that make people less willing to spend scarce resources of time and money on these issues. The validity of my argument rests on two key assumptions: that people subjectively recognize these threats and that they actually consider them to be important political issues. I assess these assumptions in this chapter.

    I begin...

  6. 3 Who Mobilizes?
    (pp. 81-106)

    We saw in Chapter 2 that millions of Americans are highly concerned about their financial circumstances. Most of the time such concerns reflect personal circumstances. But the process by which millions of individual citizens become organized politically is multifaceted and complex. Realizing this goal requires having organizations with the capacity to define political objectives and individual citizens who are willing to act on them. It requires connecting public opinion with political participation.

    This chapter sets the stage for the remainder of the book by examining the types of political organizations most likely to mobilize individual citizens concerned about job insecurity,...

  7. 4 Why Rhetoric about Economic Insecurity Can Be Self-Undermining
    (pp. 107-116)

    Chapter 3 focused on the types of organizations that might mobilize individuals to become politically active on issues related to financial threats. The next question, covered in this short chapter, is how we should expect them to respond when asked. This is where communicative barriers to collective action potentially become critical. The source of such barriers rests in the fact that rhetoric about financial threats can be self-undermining. That is, it can bring to mind thoughts that undermine at least one of the very purposes that it is trying to achieve.

    Fundamentally, rhetoric about issues related to financial threats is...

  8. 5 How People Respond to Participation Requests
    (pp. 117-160)

    In the April 2009 edition ofThe Casino Connectionthe president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, Joseph A. Corbo Jr., wrote an article with the following subtitle: “Why the Economy Is Off-Limits for Small Talk.” In it he acknowledged the temptation of frontline casino employees to strike up conversation on a topic that was weighing heavily on people’s minds: the economy. At that time Americans were still reeling from the worst monthly job losses in recent memory. Many families were directly affected as one or more breadwinners lost their job (and any health insurance and retirement benefits that...

  9. 6 Political Voice across Issues
    (pp. 161-192)

    In the previous chapter we observed evidence consistent with what happens when political rhetoric is self-undermining. The people most sensitive to health care–related insecurity—those without health insurance or without the income to cushion a health-related economic shock—were the least likely to engage in political action that sought to reduce health care costs. A similar pattern emerged among people who were personally facing the burden of education expenses.

    This pattern did not, however, signal a broader unwillingness to act politically. It did not suggest a broader lack of trust in the political system or an especially low level...

  10. 7 Self-Undermining Rhetoric in the Past and Present
    (pp. 193-212)

    Americans face no shortage of threats to their financial well-being. With regard to such threats, the story of this book is largely one of inaction, not disregard. As I showed in Chapter 2, there is a sizable number of people who consider health care costs and college costs, along with aspects of job and retirement security, as highly important issues. This number is certainly large enough to rival the membership size of some of the leading organizations that mobilize big, geographically diffuse sets of people on other important issues.

    But trying to convince a set of people like that to...

  11. Appendix A: Multivariate Models from Chapter 2
    (pp. 213-216)
  12. Appendix B: Analysis of the Washington, D.C., Interest-Group Community
    (pp. 217-226)
  13. Appendix C: Multivariate Models from Chapter 5
    (pp. 227-229)
  14. Appendix D: Noncompliance in the ACSCAN Donation Experiment
    (pp. 230-232)
  15. Appendix E: Materials for Experiments in Chapter 5
    (pp. 233-242)
  16. Appendix F: Multivariate Models from Chapter 6
    (pp. 243-248)
  17. Appendix G: Details on Variable Coding for Multivariate Models throughout the Book
    (pp. 249-252)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 253-282)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-296)
  20. Index
    (pp. 297-302)