“What’s the Matter with Kansas?” squealed liberal writer Thomas Frank. Answer: since the Civil War its almost always voted Republican. In fact, it’s usually one of the most GOP states in the Union. See polysigh.blogspot.com for more.
Interwoven throughout Frank’s analysis is that poor and working class whites have abandoned the Democratic Party- or the Party has abandoned them for more upper class voters through the use of “social” issues like abortion. An interesting theory-especially given than rural and outer-suburban counties (even ones with low median incomes) tend to vote GOP while the stereotypically wealthier urban areas and closer suburbs tend to vote Democrat.
There’s just one problem with Frank’s theory that working class whites don’t vote Democrat and that Kerry’s windsurfing and “rich” personal tastes helped cost him the election: It’s totally wrong.
In a new study Princeton analyst Larry Bartels looks at how whites in the bottom third of the income scale (those whites making less than $35,000 a year in 2004) have voted over the last 5 decades. He also analyzes the voting trends among whites in the middle income third ($35,000-$70,000) and the upper third (over $70,000). Bartels does adjust his numbers for inflation. Bartels conclusions are as follows and can be seen here: Another View of Frank’s ‘Kansas’.
“Has the white working class abandoned the Democratic Party? No. White voters in the bottom third of the income distribution have actually become more reliably Democratic in presidential elections over the past half-century, while middle- and upper-income white voters have trended Republican. Low-income whites have become less Democratic in their partisan identifications, but at a slower rate than more affluent whites – and that trend is entirely confined to the South, where Democratic identification was artificially inflated by the one-party system of the Jim Crow era.
“Has the white working class become more conservative? No. The average views of low-income whites have remained virtually unchanged over the past 30 years. (A pro-choice shift on abortion in the 1970s and ‘80s has been partially reversed since the early 1990s.) Their positions relative to more affluent white voters – generally less liberal on social issues and less conservative on economic issues – have also remained virtually unchanged.
“Do working class “moral values” trump economics? No. Social issues (including abortion) are less strongly related to party identification and presidential votes than economic issues are, and that is even more true for whites in the bottom third of the income distribution than for more affluent whites. Moreover, while social issue preferences have become more strongly related to presidential votes among middle- and high-income whites, there is no evidence of a corresponding trend among low-income whites.”
Affluent whites tend to be a little more liberal on social issues than middle income and lower income whites, while middle and lower income whites tend to be more liberal on economic issues. Of course given the fact that Kerry won voters from households making less than $50,000 (45% of voters but 60% of all households) by a margin of 55%-45% and won the under $50,000 vote in every blue and battleground state (save for Colorado and West Va.) none of this should be surprising. Now if we can just get these folks making less than $50,000 to turnout some more. Or get a few of them to join labor unions.
Bottom line: Contrary to media reports from Nov. 2004 to present day, this election was not lost among white voters in the bottom half of the income scale. While racial minorities played a big part in Kerry’s margins among the $50,000 and under crowd, the notion that middle and lower white folks are blinded by social issues (or couldn’t bear to vote for a windsurfer) are as bogus as the claims of the Swift Boat liars. Outside the South, Democrats are still the party of the working man (or woman) almost regardless of race, Hollywood and Berkeley Deaniacs notwithstanding.
Note: Get a good look at the charts on pages 40-43 on the Bartels study.