Friday, November 23, 2007


Today's prize-winning bit of dumbassery comes to us courtesy of the Washington Times (of course), in an article titled Study: Democrats party of rich:
Democrats like to define themselves as the party of poor and middle-income Americans, but a new study says they now represent the majority of the nation's wealthiest congressional districts.

In a state-by-state, district-by-district comparison of wealth concentrations based on Internal Revenue Service income data, Michael Franc, vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation, found that the majority of the nation's wealthiest congressional jurisdictions were represented by Democrats....

Mr. Franc's study also showed that contrary to the Democrats' tendency to define Republicans as the party of the rich, "the vast majority of unabashed conservative House members hail from profoundly middle-income districts."
Now, last I checked, congressional districts didn't earn money, pay taxes, or vote. In other words, "the party of the rich [congressional districts]" is not the same as "the party of the rich [people]".

If you want to know which is really the party of the wealthy, you can look at the vote-by-income-level table from 2004 election results (scroll down). Or you can read Krugman here and here. A commenter on the second post explains what's going on:
There’s something in statistics called Simpson’s paradox that describes the seeming weirdness of the WITHIN state versus BETWEEN state voting effects described by Andy Gelman & co.

WITHIN each state Andy Gelman and co. found increased wealth correlated positively with increased likelihood of voting Republican (always, whatever state). However, he also showed the strength of the correlation varied BETWEEN states inversely by overall wealth of the state. So if people do not examine the within state effect, and only refer to a between state effect, they might mistakenly conclude that rich people are attracted to the Democratic party. But that would be wrong. Andy G & co show us that it is, in fact, consistently the poorer people within each state driving the Democratic vote of the state. And it is always the wealthier within each state driving the Republican vote....

What might have been controversial is if Andy G & co had found at least a few states that failed to have within them a positive slope between increased income and increased likelihood of voting Republican. I gather from reading their paper that no exceptions emerged. So yeah, looks to me a lot like Republicans are the party of the affluent and Democrats the party of the poor and working class (statistically speaking).
So yeah, the Washington Times piece is every bit as misleading as you'd expect it to be.

But it fits within a longstanding (50 years or more) Republican tradition of trying to reverse reality and paint the Democrats as the party of the wealthy elites. Do the math: there are a lot more middle- and lower-income people than wealthy people. If the Republican party were limited to its real economic constituency they'd beat out Ralph Nader but come in well behind Ross Perot. Painting the Democrats as elitists--"limousine liberals", "latte-sipping Volvo-driving" liberals, "Hollywood liberals"--is what they have to do to obscure that reality...and they've largely succeeded. (Conversely, Republicans have to portray themselves as the party of Regular Folks; hence such inane spectacles as Fred Thompson's pickup truck.)

That's the narrative that dictates the story.

At the same time, despite having the big story exactly backwards, the article does have a grain of truth, a hook on which to hang its indictment of the Democrats:
But the strongest manifestation of the influence that the Democrats' wealthiest constituencies are wielding over party policy came earlier this month as Democratic leaders were considering a proposal to offset revenue losses from AMT repeal by raising taxes on hedge-fund managers, many of whom are major contributors to the Democratic Party.

A "stopgap" bill authored by Mr. Rangel to tax hedge-fund compensation at 35 percent as regular income rather than the current 15 percent capital-gains rate, which passed the House Nov. 9, appears to be going nowhere with Senate Democrats.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has raised tens of millions of dollars from Wall Street financiers and hedge-fund managers, opposes Mr. Rangel's plan. Earlier this month, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the chairman of the tax-writing Finance Committee, said the tax increase was a bad idea and could not pass the Senate.
This is just shockingly stupid. Afraid of alienating part of their donor base, Baucus and Schumer risk alienating everyone who isn't a hedge fund manager. Afraid of giving the Republicans a tax increase to run on, they give them something far more valuable: a way to damage the Democratic brand.

Make no mistake: Democrats are still the party middle- and lower-income people vote for. Democratic policies are still, on the whole, far better for the vast majority of Americans than Republican policies. All I'm saying is that when you have that clear a difference, a difference that works overwhelmingly in your favor, doing things that muddy the distinction (bankruptcy bill, anyone?) is political malpractice.

[Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog]

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