Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

Anthony J. Nownes

Committee Members

Christopher J. Ojeda, Kyung Joon Han, Marc J. Hetherington


Private debt, also known as consumer debt, has been increasing exponentially over the past eighty years. Largely spurred by private and governmental action, the growth in consumer debt has allowed Americans to purchase services and commodities that they may not otherwise have been able to afford. However, research has also shown that debt has strong adverse effects on human social behavior. This is especially troublesome given how indebted Americans, and in particular poor and minority Americans, have become in recent years. Thus, I ask if the effects of debt extend to political activity as well as social behavior. In this dissertation, I examine three dimensions of political activity across three papers. First, I look at the relationship between debt burden and political trust. Second, I analyze if a connection between debt burden and political and civic engagement also exists. Finally, I seek if a relationship exists between debt and support for various socioeconomic policies. I theorize that debt burden is a form of economic adversity that political scientists have thus far ignored. Thus, I also utilize additional economic adversity variables to see if the effect of debt burden on political behavior disappears with their inclusion. In a world of rising income inequality and economic adversity, I believe it is essential to highlight if growing debt is a concern that may also exacerbate political inequalities.

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