Businessmen and Independents Increasingly Supporting Democrats Over Republicans

I’ve had several recent posts on the movement of new voters to the Democratic Party, often noting that social issues and one’s view on the war have replaced economics as the major points differentiating liberals from conservatives. As a consequence, Democrats are picking up support from new sources, such as from the affluent suburbs and groups such as the “Starbucks Republicans” and “South Park Republicans” which disagree with the Republicans on social issues and the war but are more economically moderate than traditional Democrats. The Wall Street Journal has an article today on another group which is increasingly supporting the Democrats and The New York Times has an article on New Hampshire independents.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Republican Party is losing its traditional support from the business community. Factors cited include opposition to the war, liberal attitudes on social issues, and opposition to the fiscal responsibility of the Republican Party. Many also disagree with the Republican denial of global warming as “some business people want more government action on global warming, arguing that a bolder plan is not only inevitable, but could spur new industries.”

The Democrats have gained support from such businessmen as they have offered more liberal attitudes on social issues, have been more likely to oppose the war, and have become more centrist on economic issues:

In last fall’s midterm elections, rebellious Republicans and Republican-leaning independents contributed to the Democrats’ takeover of Congress and a raft of state and local offices. The Democratic Party had lured many newcomers through shifts of its own since the Reagan era. Particularly under President Clinton, the party became more centrist and fiscally conservative, espousing balanced budgets, targeted tax cuts and free trade. Party liberals and unionists never fully accepted those changes.

Yet the benefits to Democrats were evident in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last July. When Americans were asked which party could better deal with national problems, they gave Democrats an edge of 25 percentage points over Republicans on cutting deficits, 16 points on controlling federal spending, 15 points on dealing with the economy, 9 points on taxes and 3 points on trade. “We have lost our measurable advantage on fiscal conservatism, and we have quite some ways to go to get that back,” says Terry Nelson, Mr. Bush’s national political director in 2004.

Mr. Clinton said in an interview that he often meets disillusioned Republicans in his travels. “They say, ‘You know, I didn’t vote for you, and I didn’t like the fact that you raised taxes on upper-income people and corporations, but I did better when you were there. You produced a better economy. You guys knew what you were doing.'”

Such comments could be dismissed as self-serving, but Mr. Greenspan offers a similar view in his new autobiography, “The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World.” Mr. Greenspan, who was President Ford’s chief economic adviser and Mr. Reagan’s choice for the Fed, praises Mr. Clinton for fighting for deficit reduction and free trade, over the opposition of fellow Democrats and unions. “A consistent, disciplined focus on long-term economic growth became a hallmark of his presidency,” Mr. Greenspan writes. In recent years, his own party’s leaders, he writes, “seemed readily inclined to loosen the federal purse strings any time it might help add a few more seats to the Republican majority.”

This is not to say that the Democratic Party has become a clone of the Republicans on economic matters. There is a portion of the party represented by the Edwards supporters who are attempting to take the party back to the ideas of the past, and more importantly there is a growing segment which has combined pro-business beliefs with more traditional Democratic values:

…the number of Americans who share some classic Democratic concerns has risen. Three-quarters of the population is worried about growing income inequality, Pew found, while two-thirds favor government-funded health care for all. Support for a government safety net for the poor is at its highest level since 1987, Pew said.

If John Edwards best represents a vision of the Democratic Party’s unsuccessful recent past, Barack Obama may represent the party’s future. A trend has been continuing which I discussed two months ago in which independents who plan to vote Democratic in caucuses and primaries where this is allowed tend to support Obama and Richardson while being strongly opposed to John Edwards. The New York Times looked at the importance of independents in New Hampshire noting that Hillary Clinton has attempted to attract such voters but is having difficulty competing with Obama:

Yet even her advisers acknowledged that Mr. Obama’s profile, like that of Mr. McCain and former Senator Bill Bradley, the New Jersey Democrat, in 2000, seems well suited for the independent bloc.

As a rule, they are middle and upper income, college educated, socially moderate, fiscally conservative, anti-Washington and repulsed by what many people criticize as the overly partisan atmosphere there.

“I’m very concerned about polarization in this country,” said Sarah Kurzon, a publisher of puzzles who voted for Mr. McCain in 2000 and said she was likely to support Mr. Obama this time. “I find Obama very attractive. He’d be thrilled to have Republicans voting for him.”

Independent voters oppose the war more than the Republican electorate. A recent CNN/WMUR poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire found about half of the independents opposed the war, a sentiment repeated in interviews that is clearly hurting Mr. McCain.

The article cites South Carolina, Missouri, New Jersey, Minnesota and California as other states where independents may play a role, but these are not the only states where voter registration can be easily changed in time to vote. The Democrats are in an excellent position to win the White House in 2008 regardless of their candidate, however there are many voters whose long support is up for grabs. This will be determined by whether the Democratic Party continues to support policies which the new Democratic voters find attractive. If the Democrats should accept Edwards-style reactionary populism, back down on support for liberal values on social issues as many Democrats were tempted to do after the 2004 election, or fail to get us out of Iraq, they very well could become a minority party for another generation.

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