Sunday, July 24, 2011

White People

Imagine being white, 35 and under and making less than $75,000 per year. Over the past 10 years your relative income has stagnated, your raise (when you got one) was eaten up by higher insurance premiums and the rising cost of food, gas and housing, and government services have been pared back or eliminated so you're more vulnerable if something catastrophic happened to you. Most of your lifestyle was financed by borrowed money either through your credit card or your own personal ATM machine, also known as your home.

Meanwhile, the wealthy upper classes have enjoyed double-digit raises not only in income, but through tax cuts that enriched their pockets and cost you in lost services. CEO's, whether they ran a successful company or not, made heaping piles of money and became cultural stars of both the large and small screen. When the bubble burst, they got a bailout. You were too small, so you were allowed to fail.

This scenario was brought to you by the Republican Party and the conservative ethos that has taken it over in the years since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. Present day Republican leaders would rather smash themselves into brick walls rather than end tax breaks for oil companies and multi-millionaires and believe that if you need government services, like unemployment insurance, well that must mean that you're a lazy socialist with anti-establishment tendencies.

This situation reminds me of the hazing scene in Animal House where Kevin Bacon is grasping his ankles and being paddled mercilessly in order to be part of the nasty fraternity. Like the battered middle and working classes, through gritted teeth he proudly asks while being hit, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

White voters, then, must be ready to bolt the party of Lincoln and find refuge in a system that will allow them to thrive, but protect them when things go bad, right?

Not so fast.

According to the latest Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey, whites seem to falling over themselves to run away from the Democratic Party into the welcoming arms of the people who want Medicare to be a pay-as-you-go program and believed that 300,000 GM and Chrysler workers should have been sacrificed on the alter of "moral hazard."

Just look at these numbers:

It seems the less wealthy you are, the more you're inclined to like the party that makes you pay more.

The chart below is based on all voters.

Notice how the Democrat's advantage over the Republicans has narrowed since 2008. I understand that the economy has been a nightmare for people who have to work for a living. I've seen many of my colleagues in the public and private sectors laid off with few prospects for getting a job locally, and can't sell their houses if they had to move. But to see the shift of people who make less than $30,000 toward the right is astounding. Are they hoping that the debt ceiling debate will help them out? What's the attraction?

And finally, this is based on white voters. Here's the rout:

 In every category, save for the Northeast, Republicans have captured the imagination of white voters. This doesn't mean that they are poised to sweep the elections next year, but it reflects a sizable shift at this point in time that Republicans are loving and Democrats are frightened of, and with good reason.

But the point remains: why do people follow an ideology that works against their best interests? Is it because we've been through almost three years of economic stagnation with a Democratic president? A sense that we need to do something different? The American promise that every person can still be rich if they work hard enough? I don't know, but I'd love to hear opinions.

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