Richer people continue to vote Republican

by Andrew Gelman on November 14, 2012 · 8 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Political Economy

From the exit polls:

This is all pretty obvious but it seemed worth posting because some people still don’t seem to get it. For example, Jay Cost, writing in the Weekly Standard:

The Democratic party now dominates the Upper East Side of Manhattan, as well as the wealthiest neighborhoods in the most powerful cities. And yet Republicans are still effectively castigated as the party of the rich. They are not—at least not any more than the Democratic party is.

Arguably, both the Democrats and the Republicans are “the party of the rich.” But Republicans more so than Democrats (see above graph, also consider the debates over the estate tax and upper-income tax rates). Cost writes:

Sure, the GOP favors tax rate reductions to generate economic growth, but the Democratic party has proven itself ready, willing, and able to dole out benefits to the well-heeled rent-seekers who swarm Washington, D.C. looking for favors from Uncle Sam.

But he’s missing the point. The paradigmatic Democratic rent-seekers are public employee unions. But they’re not generally rich, they’re middle class. Maybe teachers and bus drivers don’t deserve $80K salaries, maybe their pensions are bankrupting America, whatever. But they’re not rich people. Yes, Obama has supporters on Wall Street, as does Romney. Obama won the rich suburbs of New York. Meanwhile, Romney won the rich suburbs of Dallas. Put it all together, and upper-income Americans mostly vote Republican. Not uniformly so, and it varies a lot by region of the country (as we discuss here and in endless detail in our Red State Blue State book), but on average, yes.

I also object to Cost’s statement that Republicans are “castigated” as the party of the rich. Maybe it’s not so bad to represent the rich! Rich people do a lot of good things, no? I don’t see how you can (a) object to upper-income tax hikes and then (b) say that it’s a bad thing to be the party of the rich. Romney’s “47%” remark was stupid, and I agree with Cost that Romney was a bad candidate, but there is a coherent argument to be made that what’s good for the rich is what’s good for the economy as a whole. I expect that in the context of a debate over economic policy, Cost would make such an argument, so I don’t think it necessarily makes sense when he’s talking about politics to be slamming rich people. The real point is that there are different sorts of rich people. A radiologist in Connecticut will have different views than an oil company executive in Texas.

P.S. Cost also writes:

[Obama’s] strategy has shades of the Bush 2004 campaign, but with an important difference. While Bush played to the value voters and attacked Kerry, he also campaigned on something positive: he had kept us safe after 9/11, and he would continue to do so. There was no such positive message coming from Obama, at least none to be taken seriously.

I don’t get this. In what way was Bush’s “he had kept us safe after 9/11” more positive than Obama’s “we got Bin Laden”?

Or maybe I’m just bitter because I sent an article to the Weekly Standard a few years ago and they didn’t run it (it ended up appearing in Frum Forum).

P.S. See also here for an earlier discussion of the same point.

{ 8 comments }

J November 14, 2012 at 10:53 am

I have a question. Maybe the results for the rich respondents to the exit polls are subject to a higher margin of error and as a result the rank ordering of those estimates are all the same, but I find it interesting that in the past two presidential election cycles, probably the most polarized we’ve seen yet, the wealthy vote is 5% lower than in the past. Reasons for this, or just noise in the data?

Andrew Gelman November 14, 2012 at 11:01 am

J:

I think it could be a real trend.

J November 14, 2012 at 11:24 am

Interesting in line of the journalistic speculation that the rich donors were leaving Obama en-masse for Romney. Polarization at work?

RobC November 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm

The title of the graph refers to “richer” Americans, and it’s certainly true that a family with an income of $150,000 is richer than one with income of $50,000. But are families with incomes of $100,000 and $150,000 rich? If so, then the chart refutes Jay Cost’s statement. If not, if the threshold for “rich” lies somewhere north of a family income of $150,000 (and let it be noted that President Obama regards families with that income as middle class), then the chart does not prove Cost wrong.

Rigor!

Andrew Gelman November 14, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Rob:

The exit polls include some higher income categories which look pretty similar to the $150K group and which I excluded simply to keep the graph cleaner. Other evidence such as surveys of the wealthy and data on campaign contributions suggest that richer people are more likely to vote for Republicans than Democrats.

Mindy November 14, 2012 at 12:54 pm

I think the bigger criticism to quibble with here, in the main, is that rich people “mostly” vote Republican. Your own chart shows that the GOP share doesn’t even get up to 58% in that top bracket in the best election, and doesn’t get to 55% in this election. That’s not a huge margin compared to some of the other demographic groups mentioned. So I don’t think Andrew is wrong as much as he overstates the case.

Kevin Schmidt November 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm

While Democratic rent-seekers include public sector unions, I think Cost is aiming at those that receive corporate welfare like subsidies (General Electric), tax credits, and loan guarantees (for green energy, for example). These giveaways are given not to the middle class, but to the rich and well-connected corporations.

Drew November 14, 2012 at 8:47 pm

I do agree that rich people tend to vote for the Republican Party. That is because the Republican Party tend to favor a free-market with little government interference. Government interference includes businesses as well as stock and bond trade. Owning a business and trading/owning stocks is something richer people tend to participate in therefore it should make sense rich people support the Republican Party. That being said some ultra rich people would tend to side with the Democratic Party when government regulation wouldn’t affect them. Some people have so much money that they could lose millions of dollars in taxes and government regulations and they would still be well off. Also while the Democratic Party may be made up of a majority or middle and lower class people someone smart and educated has to lead them. Without wealthy leaders the party would not thrive or exist for that matter therefore, it should be assumed that no matter what party they are and what their belief system is there are rich people backing them up.

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