The Affluent Voting Democratic Based Upon Values and Economic Self-Interest

In an article at Slate Daniel Gross questions why the rich vote Democratic as opposed to Republican. He is half right in arguing that angry Yuppies are willing to vote against their economic interests out of outrage against the policies of George Bush:

For several years, I’ve been writing about Bushenfreude, the phenomenon of angry yuppies who’ve hugely benefited from President Bush’s tax cuts funding angry, populist Democratic campaigns. I’ve theorized that people who work in financial services and related fields have become so outraged and alienated by the incompetence, crass social conservatism, and repeated insults to the nation’s intelligence of the Bush-era Republican Party that they’re voting with their hearts and heads instead of their wallets.

Gross reviewed the election results, finding that affluent voters did vote Democratic:

Last week’s election was perhaps Bushenfreude’s grandest day. As the campaign entered its final weeks, Barack Obama, who pledged to unite the country, singled out one group of people for ridicule: those making more than $250,000. At his rallies, he would ask for a show of hands of those making less than one-quarter of $1 million per year. Then he’d look around, laugh, and note that those in the virtuous majority would get their taxes cut, while the rich among them would be hit with a tax increase. And yet the exit polls show, the rich—and yes, if you make $250,000 or more you’re rich—went for Obama by bigger margins than did the merely well-off. If the exit polls are to be believed, those making $200,000 or more (6 percent of the electorate) voted for Obama 52-46, while McCain won the merely well-off ($100,000 to $150,000 by a 51-48 margin and $150,000 to $200,000 by a 50-48 margin).

I wrote about Why We Latte Drinking Liberal Elitists Can Vote Democratic back in September, presenting data showing that the types of people Gross is discussing don’t have a huge economic stake if we only look at taxes regardless of which party wins. Those earning incomes in the range Gross discusses may pay a little more or less in taxes under the plans of one or the other candidate, but it doesn’t amount to all that much. Most of us latte drinking liberals who pay more taxes under Obama’s tax plan will pay $1000 or less extra per year. It isn’t until incomes in the ballpark of $600,000 per year where the tax differences really matter, and these are not necessarily the ones Gross is discussing.

So we wind up paying $1000 (or less) extra in taxes a year. We are obviously not hurting for money where $1000 is crucial. While conservatives look purely at paying the least amount in taxes, liberals are willing to look at what we get in return if we put up with paying a little more (even if we would prefer not to). Voting for Obama over McCain means a better chance of getting out of Iraq and less of a chance of getting bogged down in other wars. Voting for Obama over McCain means increasing civil liberties and restoring some of the checks and balances on government power. Voting for Obama over McCain means more liberal judges and less of a risk of returning to the days of the shirt hanger abortions. Voting for Obama over McCain means an end to the religious right dictating government policy. Voting for Obama over McCain means an end to the funding ban on embryonic stem cell research. Voting for Obama over McCain means a better chance of having cleaner water and air, and of seeing the country move towards energy independence.

All of these factors give reason to vote Democratic even if it did cost more and this does sound much like the idea of Bushenfreude noted above. The reasons for voting Democratic also go beyond this. The marginal tax rate is only one factor in how we do economically, and the differences being discussed are not that great. Historically  the economy does better and the market goes up more under Democrats than Republicans. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, but we have seen the results of Republican economic ideas in the past several weeks. I’m losing far more in the market every day thanks to failed Republican economic policies than any higher taxes I would pay in an entire year under Obama compared to McCain.

Republican policies of using the power of government to transfer wealth to the ultra-wealthy do not work out very well for everyone else. Obama is right that spreading the wealth around is better for small businessmen. He did not mean Marxist redistribution of the wealth as the Republicans have claimed but allowing all to benefit from the advantages of participating in the free market. A strong middle class allows us all to make more money, while Republican polices stiffle the market allowing a small oligarchy to receive most of the benefits. Despite Republican rhetoric, their policies are destroying rather than promoting capitalism. More affluent voters are realizing this and are voting their wallets, as well as their values, in voting Democratic rather than Republican.

Update: Affluent Voters Key to Obama Victory

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  1. 1
    Jeremy Pober says:

    You have a good point to distinguish between voters making over $250,000 and those making over $600,000, but is there any data to support the claim that voters over $600,000 broke to McCain, or less to Obama than the >$250,000 as a whole or especially the $250,000-$600,000 demographic?

    In other words, is Gross entirely right about “Bushenfreude” or does it affect lower-upper class vs. upper class people differentially?

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Some pre-election polling did suggest that those most making over $600,000 might have gone more for McCain than those making $250,000 -$600,000 but I haven’t seen any good post-election data yet to verify that it actually turned out this way. The number is so relatively small that I’m not sure good data will even come out. I’m sure that there are both those who voted against Obama due to higher taxes and those who did vote for Obama for reasons beyond taxes. I’m far more confident that those in the $250,0000 to $600,000 range were willing to look beyond taxes as the tax impact wasn’t that great. On the other hand, the higher the income the less the money matters in terms of standard of living and we know that there are very wealthy people who have always voted for the more liberal candidate.

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