Nicholas Carnes

Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
Chapter Member: North Carolina SSN
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About Nicholas

Carnes’s research focuses on Congress, state and local legislatures, with a special focus on representation and political accountability, and the influence of legislators’ backgrounds on economic policy and inequalities of social class.


How Government by the Privileged Distorts Democracies

  • Noam Lupu

The Cash Ceiling

Are Politicians Prejudiced against the Poor?

  • John Holbein

In the News

Quoted by Sahil Chinoy and Jessia Ma in "How Every Member Got to Congress," The New York Times, January 26, 2019.
Quoted by Vale Lewis in "Professor Examines Causes of Socioeconomic Inequality among Elected Officisls," Cornell Sun, February 28, 2018.
Research discussed by Eugene Scott, in "Roseanne Barr Reinforces Myth that Working-Class Voters Elected Trump," Washington Post, January 12, 2018.
Opinion: "It’s Time to Bust the Myth: Most Trump Voters Were Not Working Class.," Nicholas Carnes (with Noam Lupu), The Washington Post, June 5, 2017.
Quoted by Nathan Collins in "Few Blue-Collar Americans Hold Office, and the Reason is Not Low Pay," Pacific Standard, January 5, 2017.
Quoted by Sean McElwee and Roberta Barnett in "The Real Masters of the Universe: The Astounding Influence Lawyers Have on U.S. Government and Policy," Salon, June 12, 2016.
Opinion: "Why Trump’s Appeal is Wider than You Might Think," Nicholas Carnes (with Noam Lupu), MSNBC, April 8, 2016.
Quoted by Lee Drutman in "What Ted Cruz's Goldman Sachs Loan Tells Us about Running for Congress," Vox, January 14, 2016.
Opinion: "Scott Walker Didn’t Finish College. Would That Make Him a Bad President?," Nicholas Carnes (with Noam Lupu), Politico, July 8, 2015.
Research discussed by Lynn Vavreck, in "Why Joni Ernst Talked about Her Tough Upbringing," New York Times, January 20, 2015.
Quoted by Toluse Olorunnipa in "Rich Guys Running for Office Struggle with Voters in Land of Frozen Wages," Bloomberg, November 3, 2014.
Opinion: "The Class War in American Politics is Over. The Rich Won.," Nicholas Carnes, Vox, September 3, 2014.
Opinion: "Of Course the U.S. is an 'Oligarchy' - We Keep Electing the Rich," Nicholas Carnes, Talking Points Memo, April 28, 2014.
Opinion: "Millionaries Run Our Government. Here's Why That Matters," Nicholas Carnes, Washington Post, January 7, 2014.
Opinion: "How Poorer Politicians Can Shatter the Cash Ceiling," Nicholas Carnes, Bangor Daily News, October 1, 2013.
Research discussed by Ezra Klein, in "‘If the Millionaires’ Party Ever Gets Its Act Together, Watch Out’," The Washington Post, May 6, 2013.
Opinion: "Which Millionaire are You Voting For?," Nicholas Carnes, New York Times, October 13, 2012.
Quoted by in "The One Percenters in Congress," CNN Money, May 8, 2012.
Research discussed by Peter Whoriskey, in "Growing Wealth Widens Distance between Lawmakers and Constituents," The Washington Post, December 26, 2011.
Research discussed by Brad Plumer, in "What a Politician’s Former Job Can Tell You," The Washington Post, September 16, 2011.
Research discussed by John Sides, in "Social Status and How the Elected Vote," New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog, September 12, 2011.


"Does Paying Politicians More Promote Economic Diversity in Legislatures?," (with Eric Hansen), Midwest Political Science Association, April 2015.

Argues that paying higher salaries to elected officials encourages more white-collar professionals, rather than more blue-collar workers, to run for office.

"White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making" (Chicago University Press, 2013).

Looks at whether the social class divide between citizens and their representatives matter. Argues that legislators’ socioeconomic backgrounds have a profound impact on both how they view issues and the choices they make in office.

"Does the Numerical Underrepresentation of the Working Class in Congress Matter?" Legislative Studies Quarterly 37, no. 1 (2012).
Documents that members of Congress from different classes vote differently on economic issues in ways that mirror class-based differences in mass opinion. The shortage of lawmakers from the working class biases economic policy voting in Congress in favor of the interests of the upper class.
"By the Upper Class, for the Upper Class? Representational Inequality and Economic Policymaking in the United States," Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, August 31, 2011.
Shows that the shortage of people from the working class in public office has serious consequences. Like ordinary Americans, legislators from different classes tend to think, vote, and advocate differently on economic issues. In the aggregate, tax policies are more regressive, business regulations are more lax, redistributive policies are less generous, and protections for workers are leaner than they would be if the working class held its fair share of political offices.