Loyola University Chicago

College of Arts & Sciences

Press Release - July 13, 2021

Press Release

Loyola University Chicago’s Meghan Condon, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Receives Prestigious Book of the Year Award

Condon and co-author Amber Wichowsky of Marquette University collaborated on innovative work of scholarship that examines the influence of social comparison in our politics

CHICAGO - July 13, 2021 - The Economic Other: Inequality in the American Political Imagination, co-authored by Meghan Condon of Loyola University Chicago and Amber Wichowsky from Marquette University, has received the 2021 Juliette and Alexander L. George Outstanding Political Psychology Book Award from the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP).

The award, presented at the ISPP Annual meeting July 13, is given for the best book published in the field of political psychology during the previous calendar year across subfields of political science and psychology. “The book should increase substantially our understanding of an issue (or issues) that is central to the concerns of political psychology and the world in which we live,” according to the award criteria.

The Economic Other: Inequality in the American Political Imagination (University of Chicago Press) examines the phenomena of social comparison in shaping our perception of class and political attitudes. The innovative blend of experiments, surveys, and people’s own words is being hailed by scholars across the country for its fresh perspectives, and offers these conclusions:

  • When middle-class, working-class, and poor Americans compare themselves with the rich, they become more accurate about their own status and want more egalitarian policies from government. But when people compare with those who are worse off, large numbers draw on racialized stereotypes of poverty. Downward comparison does not increase support for public programs to help those in need.
  • American society is more and more structured to prevent upward comparison. In an increasingly divided, anxious nation, opportunities to interact with the country’s richest are shrinking, and people prefer to compare to those below to feel secure.
  • Even when comparison with the rich does occur, it is uncomfortable, and often makes people feel diminished. Many lose confidence in their power to effect change. 

Condon and Wichowsky cite these factors as the reason why, when economic inequality is at a record high in the United States, public demand for redistribution is not rising with it. Powerful currents compete to propel attention up or down—toward the rich or the poor—pulling politics along in the wake. When Americans do think about inequality, social comparison with those higher on the hierarchy reduces people’s internal sense of political efficacy even as it increases support for redistributive social policy, a dilemma for advocates of redistributive policies, says Condon, an assistant professor of political science in Loyola’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“When people look up and experience that downward pressure on their status perception, they want government to do more, but their efficacy also takes a hit,” says Condon. “They feel farther from the centers of power, they experience themselves as less powerful. Even as people want government to do more, they are less likely to feel they can get into the ring and try to make them happen.”

“We tend to think that Americans are ignorant about inequality, or that they tolerate large economic differences,” says Wichowsky. “However, our studies call these assumptions into question.”

“This book is like no other,” says James N. Druckman, the Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. “It uses cutting-edge social science methods to explain how citizens think about themselves, others, and public policy. In so doing, it provides invaluable insight into the pressing contemporary issues of inequality and redistribution. Condon and Wichowsky will change the way scholars study public opinion formation and how we all think and talk about inequality.”

Recent winners of the Juliette and Alexander L. George Outstanding Political Psychology Book Award from the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP).
2020 Markus Prior, Princeton University (Hooked: How Politics Captures People’s Interest)
2019 Suzanne Mettler, Cornell University (The Government-Citizen Disconnect)
2018 Evgeny Finkel, Johns Hopkins University (Ordinary Jews: Choice and Survival During the Holocaust)
2017 Joshua D. Kerstzer,  Harvard University (Resolve in International Politics) and Alex Mintz, IDC Herzliya and Carly Wayne, Washington University St. Louis (The Polythink Syndome: US Foreign Policy Decisions On 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and ISIS)

About Loyola University Chicago
Founded in 1870, Loyola University Chicago is one of the nation’s largest Jesuit, Catholic universities, with more than 16,600 students. Nearly 11,500 undergraduates call Loyola home. The University has four campuses: three in the greater Chicago area and one in Rome, Italy, as well as course locations in Saigon-Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Vernon Hills, Illinois (Cuneo Mansion and Gardens); and a Retreat and Ecology Campus in Woodstock, Illinois. The University features 14 schools, colleges, and institutes, including Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago, College of Arts and Sciences, Graduate School, Institute of Environmental Sustainability, Institute of Pastoral Studies, Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health, Quinlan School of Business, School of Communication, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, School of Education, School of Law, School of Social Work, and Stritch School of Medicine. Ranked a top national university by U.S. News & World Report, Loyola is also among a select group of universities recognized for community service and engagement by prestigious national organizations like the Carnegie Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service. To learn more about Loyola, visit LUC.edu, “like” us at Facebook.com/LoyolaChicago, or follow us on Twitter via @LoyolaChicago or @LoyolaNewsroom.