1st Edition

Unequal America Class Conflict, the News Media, and Ideology in an Era of Record Inequality

By Anthony DiMaggio Copyright 2021
    316 Pages 87 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    316 Pages 87 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book examines Americans and their beliefs about the class divide in the United States. It argues that Americans’ beliefs about class and the economic divide develop through a multistep process. Economic affluence influences the development of worldview, measured in terms of ideology, partisanship, and self-identified class consciousness. Class consciousness in turn affects how people look at political and economic issues. This book is intended for scholars and students at every level who study inequality from a political, economic, or sociological position, along with general readers with a growing interest in and awareness of the effects of inequality on our democracy, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the resulting economic contraction, and the protests over racial injustice erupting throughout the world in 2020.


    Chapter 1: Inequality and American Political Consciousness

    Coronavirus as a Historical Landmark Moment?

    Main Arguments

    What We Know About Inequality and Politics

    Problems with Previous Research

    Critical Theory, Class, and Inequality

    Research Design

    Chapter Descriptions

    Chapter 2: Rising Inequality: A History of Political-Economic Change

    Neoliberalism Defined


    The Minimum Wage’s Decline

    Executive Pay

    Policy Inaction and Rising Costs of Services

    Tax Policy

    Growing Inequality, Declining Opportunity

    Coronavirus and Economic Collapse: Inequality Intensifies

    Public Opinion on Inequality

    The Coronavirus Pandemic and Inequality Recognition

    Consciousness for the Capitalist Class?


    Chapter 3: The Formation of Economic Consciousness

    Previous Research

    Measuring Economic Consciousness

    Competing Approaches to Studying Economic Consciousness

    Interviewing Americans on Inequality

    Examining Predictors of Economic Consciousness

    Intersectionality and Economic Consciousness


    Chapter 4: The Development of Economic Consciousness

    Interviews: The First Wave

    Economic Privilege

    Interviews: The Second Wave

    The Importance of Economic and Social Attitudes

    Coronavirus as a Catalyst for Increasing Concerns with Inequality?


    Chapter 5: Economic Realism, American Exceptionalism, and Their Impact on Attitudes and Voter Preferences

    National Evidence

    Exceptionalism, Realism, and Foreign Policy Beliefs


    Chapter 6: Class is a Five Letter Dirty Word: or How the Media Fail to Cover Inequality

    Theoretical Framework

    What We Know About Politics, the Media, and Economics


    Media Discourse on Class and Inequality

    The 2016 Presidential Election

    Coronavirus and Inequality Coverage


    Chapter 7: Inequality and Media Effects on Public Opinion

    Media Experiments

    National Findings

    Inequality and the 2016 Election

    Experimental Effects

    Commodity Fetishism and the Economic Divide

    Coronavirus, Inequality, and Media Effects?



    Chapter 8: The Economics of Disillusionment: Growing Resistance to Neoliberal Political-Economy

    Economic Determinism, Relative Deprivation, and Counter-Hegemony

    Strain Theory, Marxism, and Hegemony

    Relative Deprivation and Counter-Hegemonic Ideology, Post-2008


    Personal Finances and Political-Economic Attitudes

    Changing Finances and Attitude Formation

    Coronavirus as a Catalyst for Shifting Public Opinion


    Chapter 9: Rebellion in America: Protest, Inequality, and Insecurity

    Insecurity and the Welfare State: The Food Stamp Challenge

    The Food Stamp Challenge: A Closer Look

    Social Movements, Economic Insecurity, and Protest

    The Madison Protests

    Occupy Wall Street

    "Fight for $15"

    The Affordable Care Act Repeal

    The Economics of Protest: Public Opinion of Progressive Social Movements

    The Trump Uprising: A Mythic Rebellion Against Neoliberalism

    Bernie Sanders and the Politics of Insecurity

    Coronavirus as a Catalyst for Progressive Activism



    The 2018 and 2020 Elections

    Prospects for Change?


    Anthony R. DiMaggio is Associate Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University and the author of a variety of books on mass media and politics—most recently, Rebellion in America (Routledge, 2020) and Political Power in America (SUNY Press, 2019). He has remained active over the last few decades in social movements and as an avid social commentator in the field of American politics.

    Why is there no socialism in the United States? DiMaggio’s landmark study, Unequal America, achieves the gold standard of theory and research, answering that question through careful review of survey data, interviews, considerations of American history, news media and recent social movements. His exhaustive analysis shows why Americans generally have little critical understanding of the class system, which is obscured by beliefs that most American are "middle class," that hard work leads to success, and that the poor live well. His analysis is a must read for all scholars, policy makers and activists concerned with understanding inequality and how to change it.

    --Lauren Langman, Professor, Department of Sociology, Loyola University--Chicago

    Author of God, Guns, Gold, and Glory: American Character and its Discontents


    Amid the explosion of books now available on economic inequality, DiMaggio’s book is as sobering as it is provocative. Few studies look at how economic inequality shapes consciousness, but this book shows that false consciousness is an essential feature of capitalism and the inequality it breeds. DiMaggio provides us with something other scholars of inequality consistently overlook: that inequality creates its own system of justification, sealing it off from criticism and social change. His book is as rigorous as it is bold, and it is essential reading for anyone studying economic inequality. His political acumen is matched by his social scientific skill, and the result is a major step forward in our understanding of inequality.  


    --Michael J. Thompson, Professor of Political Science, William Paterson University

    Author of The Politics of Inequality: A Political History of the Idea of Economic Inequality in America


    From a strong theoretical base and using a mixed-method empirical approach, DiMaggio presents a comprehensive examination of the way Americans think about economic inequality. This volume offers a glimpse into the American mind, fully supported from both novel and previously available data and complete with discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic. Readers will find the results of his interviews compelling, in conjunction with the public opinion data that undergirds their depth and power. DiMaggio neatly weaves discussion of trends in public opinion about inequality with the reasons for it, as he creates an accessible narrative that will inspire readers to grapple with some of the core challenges of our time.


    --Stephen Caliendo, Dean of College of Arts and Science, North Central College

    Author of Inequality in America: Race, Poverty, and Fulfilling Democracy’s Promise