Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2018

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Political Science

First Advisor

John D. Griffin

Second Advisor

Jennifer L. Fitzgerald

Third Advisor

Jeffrey S. Zax


The average member of Congress is increasingly wealthier than the average citizens they represent, despite evidence that voters disapprove of wealthy candidates. This paper advances a potential explanation: wealthy legislators have advantages during party primaries, thereby limiting the pool of viable candidates in a general election. By combining F.E.C. donor files from the 2006-2016 congressional elections with demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau, I find that congressional candidates come overwhelmingly from a district's wealthiest neighborhoods. Wealthy candidates are successful in congressional primaries primarily because of their fundraising advantage--which is driven by donors from their same neighborhoods. Once elected, wealthy legislators are significantly more responsive to the preferences of their campaign contributors than they are to their co-partisan supporters or general election voters.