Unequal America : Class Conflict, the News Media, and Ideology in an Era of Record Inequality book cover
1st Edition

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

ISBN 9780367521127
Published December 10, 2020 by Routledge
316 Pages 87 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

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.

Table of Contents


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?

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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