Democracy in Pennsylvania – 2018

Nineteen years ago, in advance of the July 4th celebration of the birth of our nation, Keystone Research Center issued a report on “Democracy in Pennsylvania.”  The report put two well-known facts next to one another: the gap between the haves and have-nots and the importance of money in politics. It raised the question: could the interaction of economic inequality and the increasing importance of money in politics threaten Pennsylvania’s democratic ideals?  Does money in politics and the growing concentration of income and wealth block policymakers from enacting public policies that address the needs and concerns of middle- and lower-income Pennsylvanians? Are we at risk of replacing democracy of, by, and for the people with a political system responsive primarily to an economic elite dominated by big corporations and narrowly self-interested donors?

This year, we revisit these basic questions with the futures of America’s, and Pennsylvania’s, democracies hanging even more in the balance. Today, the income and wealth gap between the haves and the have-nots yawn even wider and the importance of money in politics has grown inexorably. More so in Pennsylvania than most states, these trends have been coupled with an unprecedented effort by the majority party in the state legislature — the party most allied with big corporations and the 1% — to draw legislative district lines that establish and help maintain political power beyond the majority party’s level of voter support. It has also been accompanied by efforts to enact laws (e.g., the Voter ID law rejected by the Pennsylvania courts) that would further erode turnout among low-income people and lawmakers’ responsiveness to working families.