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It's official, pretty much: Government responds to the rich, not the poor

It often seems like politicians pay attention only to the rich.

It often seems like politicians pay attention only to the rich. And now, there's empirical evidence to confirm it.

Princeton University political scientist Martin Gilens joined Ezra Klein, guest host of The Rachel Maddow Show, Monday night to talk about his new book, Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America.

In the book, Gilens marshals decades of polling data and legislative outcomes and crunches the numbers to conclude that when the rich want something different from the poor and middle class, lawmakers respond to the rich. Or as he put it: "When preferences diverge across income levels, the government responds pretty strongly to the preferences of the affluent and not at all to the preferences of the middle class or the poor."

In that case, Klein asked, how do politicians get re-elected? After all, the rich don't make up a majority.

In response, Gilens said there are exceptions to the rule—times when politicians respond more equally to the preferences of rich and poor alike.

What are those times? When an election is coming up, he said.