Ramesh, one last quick response before I go back to my actual job (as much as I like blogging, I’d like to stay a “maker” thank you very much). My comment below was less a disagreement with your post than a qualifier: It’s problematic to rely so heavily on seniors to “refute the theory that the increasing percentage of the population that receives government benefits explains why the Democratic base vote has grown.” Seniors are (1) wealthier than other demographics (and thus less likely to be true “takers”); and (2) both parties are united in protecting their benefits.
Moreover, I’m keenly aware of increasing Democratic success at higher income levels. No one believes that all voting decisions boil down to government benefits (religion is pretty darn important, for example, and as the number of secular voters grows so does the Democratic base). I think the best way to phrase the problem is that increasing amounts of government dependence tips an otherwise-close balance in favor of the party of government or can make an otherwise-landslide election close. For example, we know the following:
1. The Democrats’ share of the low-income (less than $50,000 per year) presidential vote has steadily increased: (52 percent in 2000, 55 percent in 2004, and 60 percent in 2008); and
2. By at least one measure, the low-income vote provided the entire popular-vote margin of victory for Obama in 2008. According to CNN’s exit polls, McCain/Palin tied Obama/Biden 49 percent to 49 percent with voters making $50k and up while losing 60 percent to 38 percent with voters making less. In other words, if Obama can just keep the rest of the vote reasonably close, he can win on the strength of his overwhelming low-income support.
(Yes, I know the 2010 numbers were more encouraging, but off-year elections yield much lower turnout — roughly 40 million fewer voters. I’m not as optimistic we’ll see the same trends as turnout increases.)
Again, I’m not defending the particulars of Governor Romney’s off-the-cuff comment. The Obama baseline support may well be 47 percent, but that baseline obviously does not entirely exist because of entitlements. John Hinderaker is fundamentally right, though, that an increase in dependence makes an election much more difficult for the party perceived — rightly or wrongly — as threatening valued benefits.