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Democrats and the Middle Class

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

One of the basic explanations of Democratic difficulties in the last few elections is that we haven't effectively championed middle class economic interests, allowing them to be displaced by cultural ones.

Now some people are coming along saying this approach is all wrong. According to them, Democrats need to do is go after affluent voters. This is because of the rising electoral importance of wealthy outer exurbs (from Stephen Rose) and the sheer number of well-off voters (from CQ) that the Democrats are writing off.

This is pretty horrifying advice, and wildly off base to boot. Ruy Teixeira has written before about how the exurb/rural combined vote is no different than it ever was (about 25%), so the net effect is unchanged. And Alan Abramowitz describes lucidly how Democrats are for middle class voters, who are a far larger chunk of the electorate than Rose likes to pretend.

I'd like to follow up on Abramowitz's point by arguing that the middle class is also far more economically distressed than we sometimes realize (no matter what Rick Santorum seems to think). There are the usual facts at hand, like the 30-year stagnation in median income and rising debt levels. But there are a host of other economic pressures the people in the middle class face. The spiralling cost of going to college, which is the essential gateway to a middle class standard of living, is threatening to put a university diploma out of reach. There are the fears about outsourcing, the decaying schools, and even simple issues like the loss of time to spend raising our kids our just resting our brains.

Let me tell you something: the middle class squeeze is very real. I live paycheck to paycheck, always teetering on the brink. The anxiety about the future is a big part of why I am a Democrat. And I doubt that I am alone.

Having said that, Democrats do have to stop making explicit peasonal appeals to economic self-interest, since in many ways that just advances the basic Republican argument of selfish material acquisition. Political science research indicates that most people don't vote based on their present financial circumstances (improving, declining, or whatever) but on how they believe the country as a whole is doing. So if Democrats can make the case that conservative economic policies are fundamentally compromising the American way of life - that is a message that will move voters.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:53 AM
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