I am often reminded of Joe Biden’s finest moment. It occurred during the 2012 vice-presidential debate. Paul Ryan was using the usual deceptive claim that Obamacare took money away from Medicare. It was deceptive because while it was technically true, it wasn’t actually taking resources away from the program. But what was flat out wrong was Romney and Ryan’s claim that this meant that the Democratic Party was trying to destroy Medicare. Biden didn’t get into the weeds, as I just did. He simply said, “Folks: use your common sense! Who do you trust on this?!” That’s the thing: we don’t need studies, we know what the Republicans are all about, because they tell us all the time.
One of the great supposed ironies that I’ve been hearing my whole life is, “Actually, the Democrats are the party of the rich!” There are reasons to think this might be true. For example, Democratic support is more clustered in cities. And it may have been true at one time — at least if you massaged the data and squinted the right way. But it certainly isn’t true today and it hasn’t been true for a long time. All you have to do is use your common sense! Who do you trust on this?!
But Jim Naureckas over at FAIR did more than that, Democrats Depend on Affluent Voters? That’s Rich. It appears that Thomas Edsall has been pushing a slightly different narrative: the Democrats are as dependent upon the rich as they are the poor. This comes from the 2012 election, where Obama got as many votes from the upper two quintiles as he did from the lower two quintiles. Now this is a bit of a trick, because it depends upon the fact that richer people vote at greater percentages than poor people do. As you can see below, Obama killed it with the poor.
|Less than $30,000||Obama: 63%|
|$30,000 – $49,999||Obama: 57%|
|More than $50,000||Romney: 53%|
|More than $100,000||Romney: 54%|
Naureckas noted something else that is critical: “elections aren’t won by getting a lot of votes, but by getting more votes than your opponents.” So it doesn’t matter the total number of votes of one group compared to another. The critical issue is how well the two parties do with any given group. And on that score, it is simply wrong to imply that Democrats are the party of the rich, as Edsall’s headline does, “How Did the Democrats Become Favorites of the Rich?” But let’s be clear, Edsall’s intent — as a New Democrat — is to say, “Stay away from Bernie Sanders because the Democratic Party still needs the votes of those upper two quintiles!”
There may be reason to think that, although as always, I think most people — even a fair number of Republicans — agree more with Bernie Sanders than anyone else. But it’s just so ridiculous to talk about Democrats in this way. When people talk about Republicans being the party of the rich, they aren’t talking about voters; they are talking about policies. The Republican Party pushes policies that preferentially help the rich. That’s true to some extent of the Democrats too. But not nearly to the same extent. And based on last week’s debate, the party is moving away from that.
Regardless, no one is making that argument when claiming that Democrats are the party of the rich; they are just pushing some idea of what Democratic voters are. What they are talking about is what Geoffrey Nunberg lampooned in the subtitle of his book Talking Right, “How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show.” But as the table above shows: the strongest Democratic support is not from “latte liberals”; it’s from lower class workers. There are a whole lot more “crème brûlée conservatives” than than “latte liberals.”
Nunberg documents in his book the fact that most of the stuff in his subtitle are actually done more by conservatives. For example, conservatives are more likely to drive Volvo cars than liberals. Myth is powerful.