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.

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