So Foleygate Might Turn Off “Religious Voters,” But What About Rich Voters?

The Foley scandal has hurt the GOP with voters, including culturally conservative “religious voters.” Of course I would like to see a depressed tutnout among Christian Coalition type voters, just like the GOP would love it if voters from union households stayed home in droves. But perhaps the fallout from the Foley scandal-and all the attention paid to church-going voters- is very misguided.

In an essay entitled “Morals vs. Class” political scientist Phillip Klinkner did an interesting anaylsis of just how much voters who attend church at least once a week contributed to Bush’s victory in 2004. As TNR described it:

“The impact of a given bloc’s contribution to a candidate’s victory can be measured by something called “voter performance,” the group’s percent of the electorate multiplied by its level of support for a candidate. For example, if a particular group made up 50 percent of the electorate and gave a candidate 60 percent of its vote, that bloc’s performance would be 30 percent. A group’s performance can therefore rise or fall depending on two factors: its turnout relative to the rest of the electorate and how it votes.

“For all the talk of how religious voters made Bush’s victory possible, their performance didn’t change from 2000 to 2004. Four years ago, those attending church once a week or more were 42 percent of the electorate and gave Bush 59 percent of their vote–for a performance of 25 percent (that is, 42 percent multiplied by 59 percent). In 2004, these voters were 41 percent of the electorate and gave Bush 61 percent of their votes, for a performance of 25 percent–no change from 2004.”

But what of upper-income voters (those making $50,000K or more)?

“By contrast, Bush improved his performance with voters at the upper end of the income ladder. Among those making less than $50,000, Bush actually lost ground, as his performance fell from 21 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2004. Among those making over $50,000, Bush’s performance jumped 3 points, from 28 percent to 31 percent. And most of this improved performance was concentrated among the wealthiest of voters, those making over $100,000. In this group, increases in turnout and support for Bush, raised the president’s performance from 8 percent to 10 percent. In fact, Bush’s gains among the wealthiest Americans account for a good chunk of his popular-vote margin of victory.” In 1980, Ronald Reagan famously asked, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Among many of these upper-middle-class and wealthy voters in 2004, the answer is clearly yes.”

Bush may be in a “State of Denial” about Iraq, but he clearly sees how his vote totals went up. As TNR reminds us: “Perhaps then, it was no coincidence that at his press conference the day after declaring victory, Bush said little of interest to social conservatives and instead spoke of revising the tax code and privatizing Social Security, two measures likely to appeal to upper-income voters. Bush seems to understand who reelected him–even if his critics on the left and the wishful thinkers to his cultural right do not.”

In an interview with Rick Perlstein, Klinkner fleshed out some of his conclusions:

“Where did the lion’s share of the extra votes come from that gave George Bush his mighty, mighty mandate of 51 percent? “Two of those points,” Klinkner said when reached by phone, “came solely from people making over a 100 grand.” The people who won the election for him—his only significant improvement over his performance four years ago—were rich people, voting for more right-wing class warfare.

Their portion of the electorate went from 15 percent in 2000 to 18 percent this year. Support for Bush among them went from 54 percent to 58 percent. “It made me think about that scene in Fahrenheit 9/11,” says Klinkner, the one where Bush joked at a white-tie gala about the “haves” and the “have-mores”: “Some people call you the elite,” Bush said. “I call you my base.”

Note: Perlstein makes some excellent points about Kerry, values, and the lies Bush told about both. Check it out.

So Bush’s margin is more the result of upper-income voters voting their pocketbook than “religious” voters voting their church. In retrospect this may not be all this surprising. After all, only a minority of white, born-again Christians making less than 50K identify with the GOP (see Polarized America, by Nolan McCarty p. 100). What is amazing is ” how many people Republicans have been able to punk with this. Even Senator Charles Schumer, appearing Nov. 5, on The Daily Show, said that Republicans won on “these values issues.”

But judging by these examinations of how Bush actually won in 2004, maybe Democrats should welcome “religious” voters to the polls in 2006-provided there not upper-middle class. Or perhaps even better for Democracy, have the upper-income voters who do show up be a part of the “enlightened affluent”-the 43% of over 50k voters who sailed against the wind and voted for Kerry.

Bookmark and Share

About Nick

Teacher of Social Studies. Born in the 1970s. History major, music minor. Big Baseball fan. Economic progressive.
Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to So Foleygate Might Turn Off “Religious Voters,” But What About Rich Voters?

  1. Ginny Cotts says:

    Fantastic as always, Nick. Emailed to the family. Thanks.. G

  2. Nick:
    Interesting article. I have a hunch there may be some multiple correlation going on here, namely the gender gap and the race gap with respect to wages.

    If you look at those making more than $50k per year, I suspect the group is disproportionately made up of white guys. If we accept that premise, then the voting preferences of the two groups become more complex and not strictly about money.

    If there are proportionately more women, especially younger single women, in the group earning less than $50k, then other issues likely come into play, e.g., choice, living wage, gender equity, etc., resulting in a preference for Democrats.

    Similarly for African-Americans who are more concentrated in the group earning less than $50k. They mostly likely remember which party sponsored the Voting Rights Act and which party opposed it. Other issues such as affirmative action, support for HeadStart, WIC, and other programs for kids become additional reasons for voting Democratic. You think?

    Another cautionary remark regarding the interpretation of national statistics has to do with the nature of our government and the way we elect the President. We have a “Constitutional Democratic Republic” that affords a certain amount of sovereignty to the states. So we have 50 elections, not one, and every state’s a little different.

    Dean is right when he says the Democrats need a 50-state strategy, and it looks like it’s paying off. Ford winning (or even close) in Tennessee? Who’da thunk it.

  3. Nick says:


    I think your hunch is probably right. Exit polls and others that I’ve seen do show that the wealthier the voter, the increased likelihood of republicanism. Still, rich black folks-while more likely to vote GOP than poor blacks-are more likely to vote Democrat that rich white ones. And while the wealthy are not as uniformly white and/or male as in past years, most of the wealthy do fall into at least one of those two mostly GOP categories.