The Rich Aren't Republican Anymore
How Democrats won the election by stealing wealthy voters from the GOP.
On the campaign trail, President Bush and Vice President Cheney argued that voting for Democratic candidates would be bad for people with high incomes. Returning Democrats to control of the House, Cheney said, would mean installing tax-raising Rep. Charles Rangel at the helm of the House ways and means committee and making Rep. Barney Frank chairman of the House financial services committee. The not-so-subtle implications: Elect these guys and they'll raise taxes, regulate the investment world, and funnel the proceeds to undeserving black people and gay Jews.
It didn't work. One of the many dynamics in play this fall was the phenomenon of Bushenfreude, angry, well-off, well-educated yuppies, generally clustered on the coasts, who were funneling windfalls from Bush tax cuts into the campaigns of Democrats and preparing to vote for those who would raise taxes on their capital gains, their incomes, and their estates.
Was Bushenfreude a decisive factor in the Democratic victory? Perhaps not. In Bushenfreude's ground zero, Connecticut's 4th Congressional district, Republican Chris Shays hung on by his fingernails and beat back well-funded challenger Diane Farrell for the second election in a row. Ned Lamont, another pissed-off Connecticut yuppie, likewise failed.
But a look at the rather crude exit polls show that the House Republicans didn't get much of a return on all the pandering they've done to the wealthy. And it's quite possible that the defection of angry rich folks might have helped tipped the balance in places like the Rhode Island and Virginia Senate races, and Republican house losses in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Arizona. Back in 2000, Bush referred to "the haves, and the have mores," as "my base." Today? Not so much.
Because we're in an age of mass affluence, and because wealthier people tend to vote more frequently than poorer people do, the voting behavior of the rich can be almost as significant as the political donations they make. In 2006, on a nationwide basis, those making more than $100,000 constituted 23 percent of voters, up from 19 percent in 2004. And far more of them suffer from Bushenfreude now than did in 2004. The outbreak, an epidemic on the coasts, is spreading slowly to the Midwest and the South.
The exit polls aggregate votes for the House on a broad geographic basis: East, West, Midwest, and South. Yesterday, the poll for the House vote in the East showed that the 25 percent of the electorate making over $100,000 went big for Democrats overall, 57-42, compared with a 49-48 margin in 2004. In 2006, those making between $150,000 and $200,000 voted for Democratic candidates by a whopping 63-37 majority, and those making more than $200,000 went Democratic by a slim 50-48 margin. That's a huge shift from 2004, when Republicans took the $150,000 to $200,000 demographic 50-48 and rang up a huge victory among the over $200,000 set: 56-40. In 2006, Democratic candidates racked up big wins among college graduates—63-35, compared with 55-42 in 2004—and among those with postgraduate degrees—68-31, compared with 58-38 in 2004.
A similar dynamic could be seen in the House vote in the West, where Democrats won the high-income demographics by smaller majorities: 53-45 in the $100,000 to $150,000 slice; 50-46 in the $150,000 to $200,000 segment, and 52-48 in the over $200,000 category. Again, that represents a big shift from 2004, when Republicans won the $100,000 to $150,000 group 51-48 and took the over $200,000 group 54-46. In 2006, Democratic candidates increased their margins in the West among college graduates and those with post-graduate degrees—anthropologists at Berkeley, yes, but also MBAs, lawyers, and doctors.
In the South, where households with more than $100,000 in annual income were 23 percent of the voters, Republicans also saw significant erosion. The $100,000 to $150,000 group went Republican 59-39, the $150,000 to $200,000 crowd went Republican 67-33, and the over $200,000 set voted Republican 58-38. But that's a big comedown from 2004, when the $100,000 to $150,000 group went Republican 71-29, and those making more than $200,000 voted Republican by nearly 3-to-1.
In the Midwest in 2006, where the affluent are a less-significant voting bloc (households with more than $100,000 were only 18 percent of the voters), things held to typical form. Those making more than $100,000 voted Republican 56-44, down only slightly from the 58-41 in the same income group Republicans received in 2004.
On a nationwide basis, the wealthy still vote Republican. But not by much. According to the 2006 exit poll, on a nationwide basis, of all homes making more than $100,000, Republican House candidates received a 51-47 majority, and among those making more than $200,000, Republicans racked up a 53-46 majority. Here's the irony: As the number and relative weight of the wealthy grow, their incomes rising in part because Republicans have cut taxes on their incomes and capital gains, they're proving themselves less likely to vote their economic interests. Somewhere in Manhattan today, the agent for a National Review writer is surely circulating a book proposal: What's the Matter With Greenwich?
Daniel Gross is the Moneybox columnist for Slate and the business columnist for Newsweek. You can e-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter. His latest book, Dumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation, has just been published in paperback.