Richer people continue to vote Republican

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.

23 thoughts on “Richer people continue to vote Republican

    • Coherent but probably wrong, it depends on what you mean by ‘good for the rich.’

      If by ‘good for the rich’ you mean the rich get rich in relative, and maybe absolute terms, the argument would definitely be wrong.

      I would buy an argument that says if you dramatically reduce income insecurity among the lower half of the income distribution, it will make a stronger economy, and the wealthy generally do quite well in a strong economy, then I buy that.

      Who is better off, someone with $10 million in Guatemala or someone with $5 million in the US?

  1. Hi Andrew, what exit poll is this? And can you have more income brackets, such as 250K (the magic number), and more than 1 mil? I suspect the uber-rich leans Democrats.

    • Xi:

      1. It’s the same exit poll everyone uses, the one that appears in the newspaper the day after the election.

      2. All the evidence I’ve seen (including polls of the wealthy and data from campaign contributions) suggests that the super-rich lean Republican as well.

    • Xi:

      Some surveys measure wealth, but it’s difficult to do so. The surveys that ask detailed questions about wealth typically do not ask about political attitudes.

  2. PSS Being party of rich corners you in a small segment of the voting pop.

    Would be nice to somehow show in chart the distribution of voters by income

    • It would be cool to replace the x axis with “income rank” rather than “income” and then provide non-linear ticks and labels to show where the dollars fell. This would show how compressed it gets at high income (and would make the trends look more linear, I bet).

  3. These graphs look a lot like the graphs of cars purchased new per household by income level that I did for GM 30 years ago. Being a Republican is evidently a luxury good. A more interesting question is what explains( or even correlates for that matter) with the variation in the function across election cycles. Economic conditions, consumer sentiment, incumbency?

  4. You wrote:
    “In what way was Bush’s “he had kept us safe after 9/11″ more positive than Obama’s “we got Bin Laden”?”

    Perhaps Cost construes the second as having a more of a revenge motive and less of a security motive and so less positive.

    • Brent:

      Maybe . . . but I have a feeling that, had Bin Laden been captured or killed in 2003, Bush’s message would’ve been “we got him,” and, conversely, were Bin Laden still at large, Obama’s message would’ve been “he has kept us safe.”

      • Sure, as they are each a politician I’d expect each to try to put forth a positive message. Nevertheless, one of those two messages may seem on its face to be more positive than the other, whichever politician (actual or counterfactual) is under prevailing circumstances allowing him to employ it.

  5. The word “richer” has both absolute (as in “rich households”) and relative (as in “richer than your neighbor”) connotations.

    Take the absolute aspect. If we define households in the $40,000 to $90,000 income range as “middle class” then rich households (>$90,000) do lean Republican (e.g. 50 to 60%) but the headline in the room is “Poor households vote overwhelmingly Democrat”.

    Now consider the relative connotation. Here the headline is that income is a great predictor of party vote the lower it gets but not amongst the rich. Poverty trumps fortune.

    So I see your point but I also see where Cost is coming from.

    Here is a quiz: If you could only choose one of the following two statements to describe the US party system which one would you choose?

    1. Democrats are the party of the poor

    2. Republicans are the party of the rich

    • Fernando,

      Well put, and this is consistent with the themes of our Red State Blue State book. Republicans are the party of the middle-class and rich; Democrats are the party of the poor, middle-class, and rich.

    • Fernando,

      While your point that the poor are more Democratic than the rich are Republican is correct, I think that it doesn’t quite necessarily follow what you imply with your two statements. That is to say, those statements try to capture a cluster of essential relationships in one categorical statement … and political affiliation by wealth is only one of those relationships. Of much greater practical interests is: to what degree to each of the two parties represent in the political arena the interests of poor or rich people?

      Because, frankly, while the poor may be more reliably Democratic than the rich are Republican, the Democratic Party doesn’t even remotely represent the interests of the poor as much as the Republican Party represents the interest of the rich. Because the Democratic Party is *also* representing the interests of the rich. Because the rich are individually and collectively far more influential in every sense than are the poor. So, for those reasons, I’d argue that the Republican Party is more the party of the rich than is the Democratic Party the party of the poor, even though the poor are more reliably Democratic.

  6. are proportions of voters the same across the income range? like income, voting itself might be a luxury (although I doubt there are disproportionate numbers of low-income non-voters :)

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