Wednesday, October 05, 2005So Larry Bartels (via PolySigh) is debunking Tom Frank's "So What's the Matter with Kansas?" The statistical evidence seems to indicate that the white working class a) has not abandoned the Democratic party, b) has not become more conservative, c) is not more concerned with social than economic issues, d) and are not primarily motivated by religion. The sole exception seems to be in the South (isn't this always the case?), where the Frank thesis seems to hold up a little better. That seems pretty decisive, doesn't it?
Well sort of. I'd have to look at the actual numbers before I entirely concede the argument, but for the sake of this post I'll go along with Bartel's critique. What I find interesting, and of far more political important, is that the Frank thesis appears to be confirmed by middle class white voters. Bartel's study indicates that they are more driven by social issues in the past and are trending Republican. Given the difficulty of defining what "working" and "middle" class are, perhaps Frank and Bartels are talking past each other. Because as far as I'm concerned, most of the people we call middle class aren't really middle class at all. They aren't independent professionals, farmers, or small businesspeople - they get their checks from someone else. This makes them functionally "working class" whatever their incomes are.
Even if we set the so-called working class aside, the puzzle remains - why in a time of great economic pressure has the American middle class embraced conservative economic policies that don't seem to materially benefit them, and to focus on cultural rather than economic issues? And it is this essential question that Franks is attempting to answer, and a challenge to which liberals have yet to craft a reply.