Entries Tagged as 'voters'

How Do the Rich Vote? Follow the Money

February 27th, 2011 at 10:39 am 11 Comments

In response to my recent blogpost arguing that the rich really are more Republican, FrumForum reader Ken writes that the truly wealthy “vote Democrat by a margin of two to one.” Ken cites a Wall Street Journal article from 2008 to support this claim. Unfortunately, the statistics in that article are unsourced. Robert Frank, the author of this article, cites a survey by Prince & Associates. Back when that article came out, I tried to track down the data and the claim and got nowhere. Here’s what I wrote back in 2008:

Do I believe [the claim that voters worth $30 million or more were favoring Barack Obama]? Not really. My problem here is that I don’t know where the survey is coming from. How did Prince & Associates sample people making $30 million or more? Without knowing at least something about the sampling, it’s hard to say anything at all about these claims. For example, a graph accompanying the article linked above gives estimates of about 0.1 million households with over $25 million and 9 million households with over $1 million. This ratio is about 1%; thus, in a simple random sample of 493 people worth over $1 million, you’d expect to see about a whopping 5 people in the survey worth over $30 million. Or maybe there were 6 such people in the sample; that would explain why the percentages of the super-rich cited in the linked article are 16% (1 in 6) and 67% (4 in 6). The survey might have more than 6 super-rich people in it; I don’t know since no details are given. (I searched on the web for the survey but all I could find were links to the Robert Frank article discussed here.) How do you take a sample of super-rich people? Prince & Associates is a Connecticut-based consulting company that describes itself as “the foremost empirical research firm in the realm of private wealth. . . Using purposive sampling methodologies, Prince & Associates, Inc. has created statistically valid single-study and panel samples providing detailed insights into the hard-to-reach and exceptionally private universe of the affluent.” I respect that this sort of sampling is difficult but it’s hard for me to evaluate it when no description is provided of the sample. I’ll email Russ Alan Prince to see if he can enlighten me on this, but really I’d think it would be the responsibility of a Wall Street Journal reporter to ask some questions here. (I guess it’s possible that Frank did ask some questions but for proprietary reasons did not want to describe the sampling methodology, but if so I would’ve appreciated just a sentence or two on it, to give me a little more confidence in the results.)

The substantive reason I’m skeptical about these findings (as well as a similar report by Daniel Gross in 2004) is the following passage from page 144 of our Red State, Blue State book:

Probably the best evidence [about the political views of the richest Americans] comes from studies of political contributions. Political scientist Thomas Ferguson has tracked political donations of top corporate executives and the Forbes 400 richest Americans (or their equivalents, in earlier periods). The data presented in his 1995 book, Golden Rule, indicate that America’s superrich have generally learned Republican, but with some notable exceptions that have changed over time. Certain industries have persistently higher rates of contributions to the Democrats. In the New Deal, these included industries with a strong interest in free trade. Since the Reagan years, finance, and high technology firms have been much friendlier to Democratic presidential candidates than most of the rest of American business. For 2004, Ferguson consolidated the lists of top executives and richest families into a lot of 674 firms and investors. Out of this list, 53% contributed to George W. Bush’s reelection campaign and 16% donated to Kerry, with Bush doing better among the oil and pharmaceutical industries and Kerry getting more from investment banks and hedge funds.

Given that this 53%-16% gap in contributions in 2004, I’m skeptical of the claim that, in 2004, “the haute millionaires, those worth more than $10 million, favored Kerry 59-41.” Which leaves me skeptical of the 2008 survey as well. Perhaps Prince & Associates is oversampling hedge-funders in Connecticut? I emailed Prince back in 2008 but received no response. That’s fine–I’m sure he’s a busy guy with better things to do that answer emails from statistics professors. But the bottom line is the data I’ve seen shows upper income Americans supporting Republicans (with exceptions in some states, some years, and some sectors of the economy). And the claims I’ve seen to the contrary do not seem supported by high-quality data.

Are the Rich More Republican?

February 26th, 2011 at 2:29 pm 15 Comments

I don’t want to spend my whole life on this red state/blue state thing, but I recently follow this Instapundit link and came across the following comment from lawyer and conservative blogger John Hinderaker:

Most rich people who are politically active are liberals, and the Democratic Party gets much more of its support from the wealthy than the GOP.

I’m like, huh? Do people really believe this? Let me take this in three parts.

1. Data. From the 2010 exit polls:

2010exits.png (I was thinking of making a graph but I like the direct feel of a screencap.)

And it’s not just 2010. You can see this in decades of pre-election and exit polls. And it’s not just voting. Political contributions from the richest Americans are generally more likely to go to Republicans than Democrats. In particular, the probability of being a conservative Republican goes up sharply with income.

Just to break this down more carefully: the claim that “most rich people who are politically active are liberals” might possibly be true–after all, the term “politically active” isn’t clearly defined–but I don’t see any evidence of it. Looking at wealthier Americans, rich campaign contributors, whatever, we see much stronger support for Republicans and conservative causes than for Democrats and liberals.

There are some exceptions (as in 2008 when Obama beat McCain in the vote and much more so in funding) and on some particular issues such as gay rights, but overall the pattern is clear.

2. Common sense (or, as we call it in political science, “theory”). Wealthier people tend to be more economically conservative; lower-income people are more likely to support taxes on the rich. This is no surprise: of course it makes sense that if you have more money you’ll have more sympathy with the argument that people should keep what they earn, and if you have less you’ll be more likely to favor redistribution. The correlation between income level and economic ideology is weak (we have graphs in Red State, Blue State making this point), but it’s not zero. Nor would you expect it to be.

3. Demonizing the rich. The above quote is from a conservative blog. At first sight, the view that politically active rich people are mostly Democrats could be comforting: the idea, perhaps, is conservative rich people are busy with their jobs, their families, being productive and enjoying life, while liberal rich people are discontented and can’t resist trying to use the political process to get their way. But the data don’t support this story. So why take that position at all? Why not say that richer people tend to have economically conservative views for good reasons? And that if you’re rich, it might make sense to participate a bit in politics to stop the government from doing things you don’t like?

That is, why can’t Hinderaker take the same reasoning that he uses for the Koch brothers and apply it more generally to rich people? This would have the virtue of being coherent with an economically conservative ideology and also consistent with survey data from campaign contribution records.

I’m not trying to suggest that Hinderaker is trying to mislead, merely that he is confused. It’s an instructive confusion, however, in that it points (to me) to a confusion in ideology.

Scorched Earth Conservatives

David Frum September 24th, 2009 at 11:19 am 165 Comments

In a fiery debate, Frontpagemagazine.com editor David Horowitz accuses NewMajority’s David Frum of “scorched-earth attacks on Glenn Beck.” Frum replies:


David, your piece above is a real service. It focuses the issues very clearly and tightly in a way that helps everybody understand this discussion better, whatever side they ultimately end up on.

It’s bad luck for you that we are having this discussion in the same week that Glenn Beck a) expressed his enthusiasm for a Hillary Clinton presidency, b) stated that he thought Obama a better president than John McCain would have been, and c) wished that he could travel back in time to vote for Ron Paul. Now do you see what I mean when I call Beck “unscrupulous”? He’s an act, a showman, as indifferent to the future of conservative politics as he is to the facts of Cass Sunstein’s career. I agree he’s a very good showman, a natural TV talent. But he cares nothing, David, about politics in the way you care about it, and you are in for more nasty surprises if you continue to place your hopes in him.

In this, Beck is very different even from Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. I’ve crossed swords with these other broadcasters for other reasons. I believe that their rage and extremism repel more supporters than they attract. But at least these broadcasters do know a lot about politics and hold considered and coherent worldviews. Beck, by contrast, is a random walk, capable of reaching any outcome. And I have to believe that after Beck’s performance over the past couple of days, you probably inwardly agree with me.

However, David, your post deals with more than Glenn Beck personally. You raise other important issues and present some personal challenges – and I take both very seriously.

You write: “[Al] Franken is now a U.S. Senator in part because conservatives of whom you are typical want to conduct politics by the Marquis of Queensberry rules when the other side is in it as war in which destruction of the enemy is the game.”

I am as disgusted as you by the election of Al Franken. Norm Coleman was one of the senators I admired most, and his defeat in the courts was a severe blow to the country and to the Republican party.

But it’s just plain wrong to suggest that Coleman lost because Republicans were not war-like enough in their political tactics. Coleman was the senator from Minnesota! His well-deserved reputation for decency, integrity and civility were huge political assets to him.

No, Al Franken is a senator for three very different reasons, which call for a different political approach than you propose.

Coleman lost (1) because the Democrats learned from the 2000 Bush v. Gore recount experience to organize much more effective close-election responses than the GOP. They worked better with local government officials, they fielded larger legal teams, and they did more effective media messaging. In other words: The Dems come to these kinds of fights better prepared, more sophisticated, and better financed than the Republicans.

Coleman lost (2) because five years of bad economic and foreign news had corroded support for Republicans nationwide – and not even as attractive a candidate as Coleman could survive in a state like Minnesota.

And Coleman lost (3) because beyond these political cycles, there has been since the mid-1990s a deeper and broader national trend away from a Republican party that seems out of touch and out of date to voters under 40 and outside the South.

The kind of “in your face” conservatism that you laud makes all these problems worse.

You challenge me to notice that the “embarrassments to our cause – the shrill, the enraged and the paranoid – who in your mind – seem to be Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and now Glenn Beck” are also our “most powerful and feared and charismatic conservatives.”

I challenge you to notice that all three of these people repel and offend many millions more Americans than they inspire and attract.

Look at the impact of this kind of politics on the three points I itemize above.

(1)   If we accept that conservatism will remain a politics that is unacceptable to the young, the urban, and the educated, we will have great difficulty raising the resources and finding the volunteers to fight a recount battle on anything like equal terms. Jon Stewart’s audience will sleep on the floor, five to a room, through an Iowa winter. The Fox audience won’t and can’t.

(2)   We lost in 2008 in large part because we had not governed successfully over the previous eight years. More than political tactics, more even than media, what matters in politics is results. If national incomes had grown by 1% a year under George Bush instead of stagnating, Al Franken would have lost in a landslide. Populists like Sarah Palin may excite a TV audience, but they cannot govern. They don’t like it and are not good at it. (That’s why Sarah Palin did not even complete one term in office, let alone run for a second.) Limbaugh and Beck style politics can gain ratings. It will not win re-elections.

(3)   See point 1, only with triple exclamation marks.

Let me end by responding to your more personal remarks. You criticize me for being too tough on fellow-conservatives – and for taking some of these criticisms to a more general domain rather than keeping them in-house. And you know what? I too worry about this a lot.

I suppose I could point out in self-defense that nobody ever seems to mind very much when one or another of these conservatives speaks far more stridently about me than I have ever spoken about anyone – that the movement conservative version of Reagan’s 11th commandment seems very much a one-way option only to be exercised in favor of radio and TV hosts, never enforced against them. As self-defenses go, that would not be a very interesting one. Here’s something however that might be more interesting:

I speak out against people like Palin, Limbaugh and Beck because in my estimation they do enormous harm to the causes in which I believe. In my view, the talk-and-Fox complex marginalizes Republicans – and backs us into demagogic and unsustainable political positions. David, do you really want to abolish the Federal Reserve? Do you think the United States should have allowed Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other banks to follow Lehman into bankruptcy in October 2008? Do you think that any cuts to Medicare amount to a death panel for grandma? Do you think we can sustain an adequate military – never mind finance future tax reductions – if we allow healthcare to continue rising from its current 16% of GDP to a projected 20% of GDP a decade from now if nothing changes?

I can’t believe you do. And if you don’t believe these things, is it not dangerous to have talk-and Fox whipping a couple of million conservatives into frenzy over things that are not true?

On the other hand, maybe I’m entirely wrong. Maybe “end the Fed” and “death panels” are a sustainable future for the conservative movement. Maybe talk-and-Fox are (as their admirers claim) energizing new and previously apolitical people to join the political process. If so, that would be a real achievement.

But is it so? I don’t believe it. I believe that their ratings and advertising imperatives are pushing them in a direction fundamentally antithetical to the electoral and governance imperatives of the GOP and the conservative movement.

Of course I could be wrong in my belief. So let me finish by issuing a proposition to you. Let’s test our diverging intuitions. Let’s sit down together and hire a mutually agreed  pollster – Gallup? Whit Ayres? – to design a survey that can test whether the 9/12 protesters, the tea party attendees, the Glenn Beck audience really are new participants in politics.

If Beck is energizing new and previously apolitical people, then I will join you in saluting his achievement.

But if we discover that he is not energizing the previously apolitical – that he is instead inviting the Ron Paul contingent to take over as the new base and face of conservatism and Republicanism – then you’ll have to agree with me that we are witnessing a disaster in the making.

We don’t have to guess. We can know. Will you work with me to find out?


Click here for earlier posts in the debate.

Are the Birthers the Next Black Panthers?

David Frum September 2nd, 2009 at 12:20 pm 83 Comments

Bruce Bartlett sends this email:

I’ve been thinking lately that conservative elites are reaching a moment similar to that which confronted liberal elites in the late 1960s.  At first they saw the rise of SDS, the Black Panthers and other extreme left groups as cannon fodder that could be used to achieve liberal goals.  (Norman Podhoretz goes into detail on this point in Breaking Ranks and Tom Wolfe made fools of them.)  But one day liberals realized that the extremists couldn’t be controlled and threatened anarchy.  I read somewhere that the seminal event was when student radicals threatened to burn the Harvard library.  This sort of thing led to the rise of neoconservatism (not the foreign policy variety, but the original one).  I think conservative elites today see the teabaggers, birthers and other kooks as cannon fodder for larger conservative goals the same way liberals originally saw student radicals in the 1960s.  I think one day soon something like the Harvard library burning is going to make conservatives realize that these people present more of a threat than a tool for advancing conservative goals.  I hope it doesn’t involve an assassination or Oklahoma City-type event.  But you can’t pour fuel on the fires of peoples’ emotions the way Glenn Beck does on a daily basis without getting an explosion at some point.

Bartlett’s comparison is thought-provoking, but I think fails for the following reasons:

1) The radical left of the 1960s was not “cannon fodder” for liberal elites. On the contrary, liberal elites were the principal target of the radicals. Student radicals hated Clark Kerr and Robert McNamara as much or more than they hated J. Edgar Hoover or Richard Nixon. The Panthers despised the civil rights leadership at least as much as they hated George Wallace. Today’s angry conservative base by contrast directs its rage across the partisan divide.

2) Liberal elites kept a much greater distance from the radicals than conservative elites do. Can you imagine the Sulzberger or Graham family giving a platform to the left-wing equivalent of Glenn Beck, in the way that Rupert Murdoch has done?

3) Both sets of elites feared their militant base. But while liberal elites feared that the student radicals and black radicals would attack them, today’s conservative elites fear that the angry Republican base will withdraw their support from them.

4) Violence was integral to the 1960s left, and especially to the Black Panthers. On the right, so far there’s plenty of paranoia but thankfully nothing remotely like the cult of revolutionary violence that wrecked so many lives in the years 1965-1975.