American Insecurity: Why Our Economic Fears Lead to Political Inaction

Princeton Univ. Feb. 2015. 320p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780691162966. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781400852130. POL SCI
Levine (government, Cornell Univ.) argues that people do not become politically active around issues of economic insecurity because appeals bringing these topics to people's attention remind them of constraints on their money and time, a phenomenon Levine calls "self-undermining rhetoric." In What's the Matter With Kansas??, Thomas Frank argued that Kansans vote against their own economic self-interest because of a successful conservative rhetorical strategy emphasizing cultural conflict and deflecting attention from economic issues. Levine focuses on economic issues associated with more moderate to liberal constituencies—costs of health care and higher education, retirement security, and unemployment—and explains why the level of political mobilization is so low, even among those who are personally affected and describe the issues as important. The book reports analyses of secondary data and the results of Levine's own experiments, supporting his hypothesis that people are most likely to mobilize around these problems when, like retirees and students, they do not perceive economic constraints on their time. Although some material is quite technical, it is clearly explained.
VERDICT Readers engaged in political activism around economic issues and those interested in political rhetoric will find this work appealing.

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