Friday, December 16, 2011

Are Voters Getting More Class-Conscious?

Here are two more graphs from Gallup, throwing more cold water on the idea that Democrats can engineer an electoral breakthrough in 2012 by positioning themselves as the party of (for the want of a better term) "class consciousness."  To my untrained eye, the first graph suggests that class-consciousness among the polling sample, or something like it, peaked sometime in 2008, and has been regressing to the historic mean ever since:      

1988-2011 trend: Some people think of American society as divided into two groups -- the "haves" and "have nots," while others think it's incorrect to think of America that way. Do you, yourself, think of America as divided into haves and have-nots, or don't you think of America that way?
Moreover,if you consult Gallup's partisan breakout of these numbers, you find that self-identified Democrats are now slightly less class-conscious (58% vs. 61%) than they were three years ago, while Independents are markedly less so (37% vs. 48%).

If that weren't bad enough news for Democrats, it gets worse.  To the extent people are class-conscious enough to identify themselves as either "haves" or "have nots," their self-identification has been remarkably stable since the end of the late 1990s economic expansion. Yes, there's a measurable upward slope in the line representing the percentage of people who regard themselves as "have nots" since 1989.  But it's not very steep, and it hasn't gotten noticeably steeper over the last couple of years:

1988-2011 trend: If you had to choose, which of these groups are you in, the haves or the have-nots?

Granted, both of these graphs are crude measures at best of the egalitarian sensibility to which Democrats are trying to appeal in 2012.  But neither graph suggests that the number of people that share it is much bigger than it was in 1996 and 2008, when Bill Clinton and Obama got elected by pushing class-based appeals into the background of their campaigns.  Democrats are betting the ranch on the hope that these polling results are misleading.


Mean Voter said...

Just once I'd like to see the results of a poll that asked this question: If you think you are a "have not", would you prefer to be a "have"? It would be a unanimous yes. So the question is how do you get there.

Democrats ought not to be betting the ranch on advancing the proposition that the way for the "have nots" to do better is to get the "haves" to redistribute their wealth. That's not going to fly in America. I think the message that people want jobs and a chance at success will fly better than the class warfare Obama is espousing.

Anonymous said...

Oh, give me an effing break.

Obama is espousing class warfare? Do you know what that means, or do you just watch the Fox News Channel?

Obama is a liberal. That is not the same thing as a Marxist, by the way, and it is evidence of our degraded political conversation that so many people elide the two.

The life opportunities of different people are significantly different: when the secular myth of America is the "land of opportunity," that's a real problem. In fact, America's economic stratification is deeper and more persistent than many European (and even Latin American) countries.

What liberals have been proposing is a set of reforms that ameliorates the dramatic differences in income between rich and poor. And if you want to characterize a two-and-a-half point increase in the marginal tax rate for those making more than $1 million a year as "socialism," go to town.

If you want to talk about "class warfare," let's look at the policy changes instituted--primarily by the Republicans--over the past 30 years.

1. Reduction of the top tax rate for unearned income from 70% to 15%.

2. Increasing legal impediments to forming and certifying unions (one of the few structural contermeasures to increased wealth).

3. Dramatically higher sectoral inflation in the education and healthcare sectors (with clear policy roots).

4. Dramatic reduction in IRS auditing and enforcement (which sectorally benefits the rich).

I could go on, but I think my point is clear. The Republicans have conducted what they term "class warfare" against the poor and middle class for 30 years. Now, whenever their political opponents talk about rolling some of that ground back, they shout "Marxism" and "class warfare," as though that gains them serious ethical and moral ground.

But the primary policies instruments for blunting these differences are <i

Dave said...

Not sure who you're talking to, Anonymous. (Or about what.)

Neither Ron nor Mean Voter mentioned Marxism or socialism.

Ron mentioned "class consciousness" and Mean Voter mentioned "class warfare". Those characterizations of the (apparent) Obama campaign message are the mainstream media characterization, not a fringe view limited to Fox News.

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ, Dave.

Mainstream media does not refer to progressive taxation as "class warfare" unless they are quoting conservative sources.

And the meaning of "class warfare" (along with "class conflict) is deeply intertwined with Marxist theory and writings. It means something very specfic: the use of it in this context obscures, rather than enhances, understanding.

Mean Voter said...

I'm not against raising taxes, though I think it is counterproductive to stimulating the economy and would end up doing more harm than good.

But if Congress is going to raise taxes, do it on everyone. If Congress is going to lower taxes, do it for everyone.

I don't watch Fox News. I just think that class warfare isn't helpful nor is redistribution of income.