Politics & Polls #108: How Money Restricts Access to Political Office

Sep 26 2018
By Sophie Helmers and B. Rose Kelly
Source Woodrow Wilson School

Working-class citizens have been historically underrepresented in American politics.

In this episode, Julian Zelizer and Sam Wang discuss the influence of money in politics — both in terms of who rises to elected office and how those elected govern — with political scientist Nicholas Carnes.

Carnes asserts that government would be more responsive to what the general public wants if the socioeconomic backgrounds of politicians were more in line with those of the general public. Carnes then explains the cash barriers that exist, which bar working-class Americans from running for office.

Carnes is the author of a new book, “The Cash Ceiling: Why Only the Rich Run for Office—and What We Can Do About It,” published in September 2018 by the Princeton University Press. He is an associate professor at the Stanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and a faculty research scholar at the Duke University Population Research Institute.


Zelizer is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He is also a CNN Political Analyst and columnist for the Atlantic. He is the author of several books including, most recently, "The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society," which was just awarded the DB Hardeman Prize for the Best Book on Congress. He has edited and authored 19 books on American political history and published over 700 hundred op-eds, including his popular weekly column on CNN.com.

Wang is professor of neuroscience and molecular biology at Princeton University. He is known for his books "Welcome to Your Brain" and "Welcome to Your Child's Brain" and for his founding role at the Princeton Election Consortium, a blog providing U.S. election analyses. In 2004, Wang was one of the first to aggregate U.S. presidential polls using probabilistic methods. In 2012, his statistical analysis correctly predicted the presidential vote outcome in 49 of 50 states. He has also developed new statistical standards for partisan gerrymandering. A neuroscientist, Wang's academic research focuses on the neuroscience of learning, the cerebellum, and autism.