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The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

On Affluent Voters in 2012



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There have been a number of smart recent takes on how affluent voters might shape the outcome of the 2012 election: (1) Jay Cost provides background on the decline of the GOP vote share among affluent suburbanites post-1992 before arguing that both that Romney has the potential to win this constituency back — and that doing so might make a difference in a state like Pennsylvania; (2) Michael Barone has argued along similar lines; and (3) and Josh Kraushaar focuses on how the president might alienate these voters with his populist economic rhetoric.

Kraushaar makes a compelling argument as to why the president should be concerned about erosion among upper-middle-income voters:

Take Virginia, with its Democratic-leaning, wealthy entrepreneurial class in the D.C. suburbs. Over one-third of Virginia voters make more than $100,000 a year, and 7 percent make more than $200,000 a year. That’s not a trivial demographic; the state’s wealthiest voters make up a larger share than its Latino voters. Meanwhile in Colorado, the $200,000-and-over demographic made up 8 percent of the electorate in 2008, and Obama comfortably carried this group by a double-digit margin. That was a huge swing from 2004, when George W. Bush carried that same demographic, getting a whopping 66 percent of the vote. With only Kerry’s level of support from the “top 1 percent,” Obama probably would lose Colorado.

This isn’t news to the White House, which has publicly made a big deal about the president’s path to reelection running through well-educated, affluent states with high minority populations, such as Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, and Nevada. The high minority turnout gives Obama, even if he’s struggling in the polls, a decent floor to work with, and upscale white voters would push him over the top. It’s why the president made such a big deal about working to pass entitlement reform, tax-code reform, and spending cuts after the Democratic shellacking in the 2010 midterms—these are issues popular with wealthier voters. [Emphasis added]

One concern I have with the Kraushaar thesis is that, as Noam Scheiber has argued, populist economic rhetoric has tended to resonate with upper-middle-income voters at least as much as it has with less-affluent voters, particularly in the Democratic primary electorate. There is a clear reason why the president talks about the Buffett Rule and targeting a small handful — roughly 20,000 — millionaire households that derive the bulk of their income from dividends and capital gains rather than households earning more than $200,000 households: many HENRYs (high-earning two-earner couples) are loyal Democrats, and they’re crucial to Democratic fundraising.

So is the president’s rhetoric really turning off affluent voters? Or do they like the idea of sticking it to The Man (who earns more than they do)? 



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