Maybe Obama Doesn’t Need the Middle Class

December 9th, 2011 at 12:00 am | 34 Comments |

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I have not commented on the recent Tom Edsall piece on the Democrats abandoning the white working class but Michael Barone does so here. An interesting nugget in that article is that Obama won a greater share of the vote than all but three Democratic Presidents but:

[H]e did it without capturing the vast middle of the electorate. He won with a top-and-bottom coalition, capsule carrying voters with incomes over $200,000 and under $50,000 and losing those in between. He carried voters with graduate school degrees and those with no high school diplomas and ran only even with the others.

What this means is President Obama is uniquely situated to benefit from both those in Occupy Wall Street and, well, Wall Street. By running up huge numbers in the under $50,000 a year bracket, and bringing in donations and support from the highly influential over $200,000 demographic he does not need to actually win the broad middle class upon which most Presidents have had to rely for victory. This means that when income and wealth discrepancy’s become greater Obama wins. Further, when the middle class shrinks (to be fair) by either increasing the wealthy or the poor Obama wins.

Now, obviously he is going to get many votes from the broad middle class but that is not where his margin of victory lies. A question for Democrats is do they want to be, and can America afford to have, a political party that wins specifically by running up large totals in those alienated from American life by poverty and insulated from it by wealth? It seems to me that all past Democratic Presidents would emphatically say no. How about this one?

Recent Posts by John Vecchione

34 Comments so far ↓

  • TerryF98

    The Tom Edsall piece was total BS, and you in your typical way have just taken it on board without any investigation, further research or critical thinking skills.

    A bit like when you did your stenography on the American ambassador to France story.

    • mlindroo

      I agree … what I find particularly annoying is dishonest hacks such as William McGurn and Barone keep peddling this “Obama is abandoning ordinary white All-American working class people” nonsense despite repeated denials from the Obama campaign itself as well as the authors of the demographic report which started the whole thing! This is a total red herring. The Dems can and will aggressively pursue this type of voter in John Kasich’s Ohio and Scott Walker’s Wisconsin. It’s normally not an either/or choice, though, and the current Democratic coalition is one hell of a lot more diverse than the current Republican/conservative one.

      As for Vecchione’s “[Democrats are insulated/alienated] from American life” statement, I would like to know how the usual GOP policies of slashing taxes for the rich while slashing social programs is going to help the middle class.


      • CautiousProgressive

        @mlindroo: I have to disagree with you to a certain degree. The democratic party (and Mr. Obama) are moving away from white working class demographics.

        Instead, they are pursuing the interests of (1) the educated classes (of which David Frum is a scion) because they hold well-informed positions, the (2) growing and still disenfranchised former-minority groups (African Americans, and immigrant voting blocks) because they provide large voting demographics, and (3) wealthy voters, because you have to, in order to get elected in modern America.

        • balconesfault

          So tell me, Cautious – did the ACA target the interests of the educated classes, former-minority groups, or wealthy voters?

          How about extension of the unemployment benefits, or the suspension of the payroll tax?

          The stimulus fund? The automaker bailout?

          I do not get your point.

        • Rabiner

          The ACA targeted educated classes because they could understand and grasp the need for an individual mandate to make it work. It targeted those who were uninsured who were more likely to be poor and minorities. And wealthy people are wealthy, they’ll be fine.

        • balconesfault

          I can’t disagree more. First, the ACA was pushed through on policy, not political grounds. Obama wasn’t trying to woo target constituencies – he was acting on his core belief that America needs to maximize the number of people covered by insurance, and the only way to do that was to make it affordable to those making too much to qualify for Medicaid who aren’t covered by some employer program.

          Thus, it being targeted at the middle class (say, a family of 4 making between 25K and 90K per year) isn’t based on whether or not they can understand that they will benefit – it is based on whether it is IMPORTANT that the middle class receive this benefit.

          The educated classes, fwiw, don’t benefit nearly as much, since they are the most likely to have employer provided benefits. It’s the guy fixing your car, or working on your HVAC system, or contracting for local courier services, probably earning around 40K/year, who will really benefit big time … whether or not they know it yet.

          And again – the poor are already covered by Medicaid. Moot point.

        • hisgirlfriday

          Have to disagree with your characterization of the situation with healthcare in this country.

          First of all, if you are a poor person you are not necessarily covered by Medicaid. Unless you’re a single mom or a child of a single mom, a disabled person or a senior citizen living off social security relying on Medicaid for nursing home payments, you will probably not be able to get benefits via Medicaid. But if you’re just a single unemployed or underemployed person of working age you are probably not going to get Medicaid benefits.

          Secondly, the “educated classes” benefit more than you realize for several reasons. First of all, young college students and their parents seem pretty happy with the provision allowing kids to be on their parents’ insurance longer because many jobs for young people starting out do not include employer-provided health insurance or they only provide crappy insurance. Also, because of stagnant wages, there are plenty of people with college degrees that make just the same OR LESS than the guy working on your car or the A/V system you talk about making only 40K. But more important is the provision of ensuring health insurers can’t deny healthcare based on preexisting conditions. This certainly benefits people of all incomes.

  • CautiousProgressive

    Not to be argumentative – but your restatement of Edsall’s point is off. He said that the Democrats are loosing the cohort of uneducated (~no college degree) white Americans, rather than Middle-class Americans as you say.

    Increasingly, a college degree is the only route to middle-class life. Thus, the cohort being courted by the Democratic party (“professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists”) ARE the new American middle class.

    • LFC

      I noticed that too. The following sentence form the article says it clearly:

      The 2012 approach treats white voters without college degrees as an unattainable cohort.

      As to saying “white middle class voters”, well that’s a very diverse group. Does Edsall really think he can compare white southern and rural western voters to white voters in other parts of the country. Obama won the entire West Coast. Can you really do that without a large number of white working class voters? How about all of New England and all of the Mid-Atlantic? Don’t these areas have a big white working class population? Then we have VA, OH, MI, IL, WI, IA, and MN, all of which obviously don’t have much in the way of a white working class population, right?

      Obama tied, came reasonable close, or crushed McCain in most categories with one huge exception. 73% of white evangelicals voted for McCain and 25% voted for Obama. If you look at their opinions (which are often completely at odds with what they actually profess to believe, but their hypocrisy has been discussed on FF often), it’s no wonder Obama’s campaign isn’t going to target them. To do so he’d have to give tax cuts to the rich, bring back torture (which they approve of), have separate rules for Muslims, cut social welfare programs especially for minorities, openly bash gays, make their brand of Christianity the official state religion, allow people without health insurance to die, put up a deadly electric fence on the border, question anybody who looked Hispanic and force them to carry papers even if they’re citizens who were born here. etc. Basically all the nutty s*** that the GOP Presidential candidates has been spouting for months.

      It’s not white working class he’s ignoring. It’s white crazy-assed religious zealots and angry, bitter whites who “want their country back.” And there really is not reason to target them because what they want is nuts and will destroy the country.

      • balconesfault

        Great points. For example, in Pennsylvania, Obama tied with McCain (49%-49%) in the 50-75K income bracket, and solidly defeated McCain (56%-44%) in the 75-100K bracket.

        In Ohio, Obama won both brackets, 52%-47%.
        In New Jersey, the same (57%-42%, 53%-46%)
        In Wisconsin, Obama won the 50-75K bracket (56%-43%)
        In Colorado, Obama won the 50-75K bracket (55%-45%)

        It is in the south where this dynamic changes. So while Obama won North Carolina, he lost the two brackets solidly (46%-53%, and 38%-62%). Go a little further south, and it gets worse (South Carolina – 33%-66%, 40%-60%). Make it to the Deep South, and its a slaughter (Alabama 41%-57%, 29%-70%).

        It’s not the middle class that will never vote for Obama. It’s the southern, rural middle class.

  • balconesfault

    Right Wing pundits just cannot wrap their heads around a simple fact.

    This is not the Karl Rove White House, filled with Machiavelli Mayberries who only consider any public policy through a lens of how it affects target constituencies.

    Consider this … the wealthiest Americans have no problem with their healthcare coverage. They have wonderful employer paid benefits, or plenty of money to buy healthcare for themselves. The poorest Americans, meanwhile, have access to Medicaid to cover their healthcare bills.

    Who is it that faces bankruptcy in our society if they or one of their dependents gets hit with a serious injury or ailment requiring treatment that rapidly blows through finances (and for those with low-cost policies, their max coverage levels)?

    Come on, John. We know you can figure this one out. Who is it who will benefit most from the Premiums and Cost Sharing Subsidies Under the Affordable Care Act?

    Will it be the poor? Noooooo …
    Will it be the wealthy? Noooooo ….

    Will it be the middle class, earning up to 400% of the poverty level (ie – for a family of 4, up to $90,000/year)?

    Third time’s a charm! The American Middle Class WILL be the primary beneficiaries of the ACA when premiums and cost sharing subsidies kick in.

    If Obama and the Democrats abandoned the Middle Class, they did it in a very peculiar way, with the signature piece of legislation passed in Obama’s first term making the American Middle Class its primary beneficiary.

    • LFC

      “If Obama and the Democrats abandoned the Middle Class, they did it in a very peculiar way, with …”

      …attempts to allow high-income tax breaks to expire while fighting to preserve middle class tax breaks.

      …by fighting for extension of unemployment benefits, something that benefits the less educated middle class more during this crisis than any other group.

      …by saving the auto industry and using a stimulus program that put a floor under the Republican Recession.

  • CampaignedforGoldwater

    The main reason I read FrumForum is the posters seem interested in discussing policy, not just politics. This post is a distressing exception. Who cares if Obama will repudiate the purported political benefit he gets from increased economic polarization? What I care about is whether his policies, or those of the Republican presidential candidates, will exacerbate that polarization. This post is DailyCaller stuff. Please watch your site’s standards, Mr. Frum.

    • CautiousProgressive

      @CampaignedforGoldwater: You’ll probably never read this, but…. I really appreciate this attitude.

      • CampaignedforGoldwater

        You’re welcome. I also appreciated your reply to adamcarralejo.

        As a cautious conservative, I am concerned that too flat a tax regime or too light a regulatory regime will lead to a winner-take-all society where today’s middle class 4yr degreed professionals and skilled workers will be tomorrow’s working class. I hope that as a cautious progressive you are concerned that a too progressive tax structure or too complex, micromanaging regulations will lead to entrepreneurial stagnation, decreased upward mobility, and continuing relative declines in middle class incomes.

        • baw1064

          I very much agree with you. Our country has hit on a balance between rewarding creativity and entrepreneurship, and an adequate safety net, which worked well for several decades. Now, due to demographics, technology, internationalization, etc. the structure needs some tweaking. But, we still should try to aim for something between winner-take-all social darwinism and a marxist dystopia. There still is, I hope, some middle ground. But moderation is a dirty work in today’s politics.

          Like you, I am interested in policy but find politics repulsive. JJV does tend to be one of the more political people around here.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    picking up on Balcone, who is fighting so hard to continue the payroll tax cut and who is doing their utter best to bury it? Obama just made a big speech specifically to appeal to the Middle Class. Republicans, on the other hand, want to increase taxes on the majority of the Middle class, not just in payroll but in income taxes. Bachmann screams how 47% of Americans don’t pay any income taxes (they do pay sales, payroll, state, etc. taxes) because of deductions for such things as a house (the nerve of these people buying houses, they should rent is the new Republican ideology) and children (Jeebus says they must have them, but no damned way is Government going to support the little rugrats).
    I guess JJV is way off on his basic math, but within those 47% is a significant portion of the middle class, and then you have a nice percentage on top of that that doesn’t pay much federal income taxes.
    The Republican party is at war against the poor and middle class. It is only because so many of the poor and middle class are brain dead that Republicans are voted for.

  • Graychin

    JV, are you really this shameless? Or is it mere incompetence? Or both?

    Can’t you break out of your epistemic closure long enough to READ the Edsall article to which you linked? Clearly you didn’t read it at all. The proof is that your own link is indirect – through Google!

    If you had taken the trouble to read it, you might have noticed this key sentence:

    “The Democratic goal with these (middle-class) voters is to keep Republican winning margins to manageable levels, in the 12 to 15 percent range, as opposed to the 30-point margin of 2010.”

    Does that sound like “abandoning the white working class” to you? Really?

    Along the same lines, you might take the trouble, just occasionally, to actually listen to what the Hated Kenyan is saying – instead of of running your fingers along the keyboard based on the condensed and distorted version you got from Fox News. (That’s what you did, isn’t it? Admit it!) If you do (a stretch, I realize), you will discover that the Hated Kenyan is trying very hard to rebuild the middle class, shrunken and besieged as it is from tinkle-down economics that you and your party consistently support. Obama would even like to extend a tax cut of about $1,000 per working American, but your allies oppose it. It’s the first tax cut in history that Republicans want to pay for! Why? Because it benefits the middle class more than hedge fund managers.

    Like TerryF98, I haven’t forgotten that you have never apologized for shamelessly repeating as gospel the fake story about the American ambassador to France. Neither, I suspect, will many of the other regular readers here have forgotten. Hades will likely be serving popsicles before you apologize for this equally shameless tripe. That’s just the kind of guy you are.

    Mr. Frum – this site carries your name and your reputation. Do you really want to associate yourself with a lazy, dishonest ideologue like JV? He’s the very model of the alternate- universe-dwelling Republican that gives you such despair about your party’s future.

    • Fart Carbuncle

      DF is too busy writing diatribes against Newt right now.

      First things first.

  • more5600

    An idiot citing a hack.

  • dante

    Why not flip this around? Why not point out that the Republicans are jettisoning the lower and the educated classes? Why not point out that the Republicans are putting all of their eggs in the uneducated, middle-class white Tea Party basket?

    • balconesfault

      Why not flip this around? Why not point out that the Republicans are jettisoning the lower and the educated classes?

      Because this really isn’t a serious analysis. It’s propaganda, posing as analysis.

      The lower class doesn’t need propaganda to know the GOP has jettisoned them. GOP rhetoric does a plenty good job of making that clear.

      Meanwhile, the educated classes are those least likely to embrace the propaganda. Many will still vote GOP on social issues (you can be educated and still embrace intelligent design, sadly enough) but going around yelling “The GOP has abandoned the educated” will have no effect on them.

      The GOP is well aware, however, that targeted propaganda works best on low-information middle class types who have to spend way too much of their time just trying to stay afloat to really dig into how little Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor really care about their best interests.

    • margoharris1

      Rachel Maddow had 2 Harvard professors on tonight, who did a study of the TEAA+party and wrote a book. Mostly middle aged and older. They are firmly middle class and insured mostly fairly educated.
      They don’t really care all that much about the candidates character or morals but their driving force is to make Barack Obama a one term president and drive him out. Believing that their white privilege is waning (it isn’t) and their believe that Obama is a socialist.
      Pell Grants, Welfare, Food Stamps, Medicaid are offensive to them, somebody getting something for nothing. They don’t want to pay because they don’t think these people deserve it, they haven’t paid their dues. Something young people cannot do.
      They are the poster child for mindless white resentment.

  • _will_

    this only supports my theory that the white middle class in America, generally speaking, is filled to the brim with self-loathing.

    the only thing they hate more than themselves is “the other”.

    • _will_

      which is to say: I don’t think Obama/ the Dems have “abandoned” the middle class at all; in fact i think it’s the middle class who have abandoned them because of
      (1) self-hatred that causes many in this demo to vote against their own economic interests (cf Steinbeck’s quote about the poor and “temporarily embarrassed millionaires”, only sub “21st century white middle class” for “poor” and “middle class sustainability in a deregulated global economy” for “socialism”); and

      (2) the Dems tendency to (try to) treat non-Christians, gays and empirical scientific data with the respect each deserves.

  • ottovbvs

    This is Republican spinning. Edsall takes a psephological analysis by some third party think tank that says Obama should direct resources away from rural southern whites and direct it towards other groups and this becomes the Dems abandoning the white middle class. So who was abandoning the white middle class in OH when the democrats turned back that anti worker legislation of Kasich? I can’t take this sort of stuff seriously. What’s next Obama is abandoning Wall Street bankers?

  • AnBr

    This is the problem of propaganda. It becomes easy to fall victim to your own lies and distortions. Only bad, ineffective strategies can come from a lack of factual information.

  • adamcarralejo

    I like how in all these articles responding to the conclusion of “obama isn’t winning white working class” easily slips to becoming “obama doesn’t care about working class”

    First, there is such thing as non-white working class – and apparently these hispanic and black (and other minority) working class people ARE voting for Obama (shocking, I know) – kinda blows a whole in the whole thesis of the article.

    Second, and I think most importantly (vecchione isn’t alone), why is it that when you read “white working class” you mind immediately thinks “middle class” as if the entire middle class is made up of whites.

    Republicans and conservative have more problems with minority voters than simply immigration issues.

    second, and I

    • CautiousProgressive

      You make a good point, but consider that the perspective of white middle-class individuals is very different than that of black or hispanic middle-class individuals.

      In the past, white middle-class demographics held considerably more economic and social power – so they see themselves loosing ground. Black and hispanic blocs, despite being (on average) in a worse state than their white colleagues, are non-the-less doing significantly better than they were in prior decades, and hence they realize that they are gaining ground.

      Hence in this scenario, white demographics turn a bit reactionary out of fear of lost ground, and black/hispanic groups turn progressive out of hope.

  • jakester

    I guess the GOP needs to reach out to that middle class, which Perry has done so successfully with his anti Obama’s war on Xtianity and anti gays in the military ad.

  • JohnMcC

    This is called realignment. It has been an ongoing process in our history and it accelerates under economic stress. A recent ‘Murky News’ story:

    “Not even half of California’s families are middle class anymore as the recession and it’s aftermath have widened the gap between rich and poor according to a new report.

    Three decades ago 60% of California families could count themselves in what the Public Policy Institute of California calls “the middle income bracket”….The middle class formed a comfortable majority and shared the state’s prosperity.

    But the portion of middle income families slipped to 49.7% last year….(T)he report defines the middle income bracket as families who earn $44,000 to $155,00 a year.

    ‘It really reflects a decades-long trend, at least three decades of shifts in our economy,’ said report co-author Sarah Bohn.”

    The sources cited by Mr Vecchione take this trend back to the mid-60s. No one is surprised. LBJ predicted this when he signed the Civil Rights Act of ’64; he said he was losing the Democrats the south for a generation. He just didn’t consider that political ‘Dixie’ extends from the old Confederacy to southern California and extends north to southern Illinois, Indiana and southeast Ohio.

    And if we thought about it only a moment, would we prefer a major party alignment that mirrors the Roosevelt Coalition? Traditional southern grandees and corrupt union bosses made up a large part of what we’d call the ‘progressive’ side and Rockefeller Republicans were the heart of the ‘conservative’ side back when I was weaned. It’s better now.

  • think4yourself

    As others here have stated, I’d question JJV, Edsall and Barone’s conclusions.

    Yes, non-college, whites are not voting Democratic as much as they did 40 years ago. To say that Obama has abandoned them doesn’t seem to ring true to me. I’d argue a couple of other points:

    1. That group has changed as evidenced by the drop in union membership among that group.
    2. As LFC and other’s noted, non-college whites are not a solidarity voting block. A large group of them vote GOP, especially social/religious conservatives and those from southern states (former Dixiecrats).
    3. The white voters that appear to be in question are those from the unionized rustbelt states. As noted, unions have increasingly lost their clout with this group (which would affect democratic voting) and this group has seen significant wage stagnation and decrease over the last 30 years. When you have experienced generations of downtown, you’ll make other voting choices.
    4. From a political viewpoint, I do believe that Obama is placing increased efforts on growing the base in other groups rather than focusing more resources on existing groups. Millenials are a group as large as the boomers, establishing a Democratic base here is important both now and in the future. As noted, America is working towards being a minority-majority country. Building Democratic coalitions with people of various ethnic groups is also beneficial long term for the Democratic brand (just as the GOP’s immigration rhetoric is destructive long-term to the GOP brand).
    5. As far as legislative activities while in office, I don’t see that Obama has stinted towards this group. ACA is or will be of benefit to anyone who does not have employer sponsored insurance which can happen regardless of your educational or income level. He has been a proponent of extending the payroll tax cut which is of a primary benefit to those who earn wages up to about $100K. He was for union card check, but wouldn’t stake his presidency on it. What he hasn’t done is be a hard core, union supporting Progressive the way that Richard Trumpka would like him to be. Instead his is a centrist is not looking to be anti-business and pro-union, but rather balanced.

    The Democrats still offer by far the best benefits for the middle class than the Republicans. A GOP win will cost the middle class and the poor (9-9-9 anyone?).

    The title was “Maybe Obama Doesn’t Need the Middle Class”. I would argue that a better title would be “Maybe the Middle Class doesn’t realize How Much they Need Obama”.

  • Nanotek

    “I have not commented on the recent Tom Edsall piece on the Democrats abandoning the white working class but …”

    respectfully, this piece in particular and FF in general — perhaps as would be courtesan for new conservatives — is mounting a fool’s errand…

    President Obama is fighting for the working class — “white” or not — like no president has in decades … and we know it

  • fgtayl01

    He won with a top-and-bottom coalition, carrying voters with incomes over $200,000 and under $50,000 and losing those in between.

    He won the $75000-$100000 too. He was within two percent in the rest. These conclusions are supported more by twisting the facts (lost when the $$ range is big enough) more than analyzing the facts (didn’t lose the middle class).