Political Elites and Inequality: Information, Heuristics and Policy

Project Description

Aims and Central Research Question

We study how political elites acquire information on inequality, how they process it, and how they make decisions on redistributional policies. To determine how political elites make policy decisions, especially across different political systems, is a fundamental challenge for researchers in the social sciences. We take on this challenge by employing survey and experimental research designs.
Our project focuses on three decision-making features: 1. policy-relevant information and its ability to change preferences; 2. demands of the electorate in elite decision-making; and 3. cognitive decision-making models employed by politicians when they choose among policy alternatives.


Some societies are willing to tolerate certain forms of inequality in markets and society more than others. How much and in what form inequality is accepted is a collective choice. Political elites, such as elected representatives, are able to make authoritative decisions affecting inequality. How political elites learn and process information about inequality is therefore a crucial component for understanding if and how policy-makers react to rising levels of inequality.


We conduct elite surveys with embedded experiments in order to elicit choices of elected representatives. Parallel survey experiments with representative samples of citizens enable us to estimate electoral support and assess elite decision-making. Our main focus is on three areas of economic inequality: income and its redistribution, education, and pensions.  Survey sites include the German states (Bundesländer), as well as European democracies.


Political Science, Economics, Psychology

Starting Date

1 January 2020

Project Partners

Stefaan Walgrave (University of Antwerp)

Stefaan Walgrave is a full Professor of Political Science at the Department of Political Science at the University of Antwerp. Find more information about Stefaan Walgrave here.

Peter Loewen (Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto)

Peter Loewen is a Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy at the University of Toronto. He is also a Senior Fellow at Massey College and a Fellow with the Public Policy Forum. From 2016 to 2018, he was the Director of the School of Public Policy and Governance, which he led into a merger with the Munk School of Global Affairs. Find more information about Peter Loewen here.