Politics & Policy

Populism’s Last Hurrumph

What the exit polls expose.

Despite all the punditry about how evenly split the electorate is, exit polls from Voter News Service reveal sharp, significant differences among those who preferred Mr. Gore to Mr. Bush. These differences tell us quite a bit about the perverse incentives facing any future politicians who might try to build a winning coalition with rhetoric about (1) fighting big corporations on behalf of “working” Americans, and about (2) labeling any reduction in tax rates as being absurdly wasteful and any new spending schemes as inherently wise investments. That pitch obviously appealed to many in the coastal big cities. But Gore voters differed from Bush voters in much more than location. And the exact ways in which Gore voters differed from Bush voters tell us that a number of emerging trends, if not promptly sabotaged, are likely to be bad news for future Old Democrats:

1. Education is bad news for Democrats: Gore received 59% of the vote among those with less than a high-school education, while Bush received only 36%. Among college graduates, on the other hand, Bush led Gore by 50% to 46%. No wonder Gore Democrats advocate federal regulation of education and shun local and parental choice. They have a vested interest in keeping people as uneducated as possible. Educated voters are harder to fool. This helps explain why liberal Democrats have been reluctant to include even minimal education, skill, or language standards on aspiring immigrants, while Republicans led the effort to expand the number of (temporary) visas for skilled immigrants. Gore did best in cities with massive immigration, such as New York and Los Angeles, getting one fourth of his entire popular vote from only four states (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California).

2. Prosperity is bad news for Democrats: Among those with an annual income below $15,000, Gore led by a huge margin — 56% to Bush’s 36%. But among those with an income above $100,000, Bush had 53% of the vote compared to Gore’s 43%. No wonder Gore Democrats praise the poor and damn the rich. They obviously have a vested interest in keeping the number of poor people as large as possible, and of preventing voters from attaining the American dream. Unusual economic effort and achievement are rewarded with punitive taxation, which is unlikely to make the overtaxed minority susceptible to Mr. Gore’s promises to give more of their money to his supporters. The 13% of voters for whom taxes were the single most important issue were presumably drawn from the 13% of voters paying more than two-thirds of the federal income tax. And they supported Gov. Bush by a margin of 79% to 17%.

3. Married families are bad news for Democrats: Among those married with children, Bush got 55% of the vote to Gore’s 41%. Among gays and lesbians, by contrast, Gore had 71% to Bush’s 24%. No wonder Gore Democrats are reluctant to fix the marriage penalty, and have trouble sounding sincere about family values. They have a vested interest against reproduction. If too many people start marrying first and having children second, then Gore Democrats would lose a lot of votes.

4. Maturity is bad news for Democrats: Bush captured 51% of voters over the age of 60, while Gore got only 46%. Older people did not buy the Gory story about Bush bankrupting Social Security, nor the attacks on the drug industry. And many oldsters were rightly miffed by the Clinton-Gore 1993 law that taxes 85% of their benefits if they saved too much or work too long. In fact, Gore only had a clear edge among unsuspecting youths — the 17% of voters younger than 29. That is bad news for future Democrats, because the average age of the population will be increasing rapidly over the next few decades.

Politicians who target their message toward voters with little education, little income, and no familial responsibilities face an unfortunate conflict of interest. To the extent that a rising proportion of Americans become well educated, and therefore more prosperous, fewer and fewer voters will be seduced by the divisive populist rhetoric that once worked for Al Gore’s father. It is only by preserving and extending tax and welfare policies designed to keep a lot of us poor, uneducated, unmarried, and dependent on the government that Al Gore’s anti-wealth, anti-education, anti-family coalition could continue to command even half the vote in the future. So long as Republicans control even a slim majority of Congress, that should be sufficient to thwart the destructive policies needed to make this year’s populist coalition a viable force in future elections.

—Alan Reynolds is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.

Alan Reynolds — Mr. Reynolds, NR’s economics editor from 1972 to 1976, is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of Income and Wealth.


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