Republicans still the party of the rich

By Razib Khan | August 6, 2010 4:50 am

I notice that Roger L. Simon has an uninformed post up, The Party of the Rich, where he says:

Back when I was a kid, we used to assume the Republicans were the party of the rich. It was a given — all those plutocrats with chauffeurs shuttling them between the penthouse in Sutton Place and the weekend manse in Southampton.

Of course that was pretty idiotic then (a Kennedy was in the White House), but it’s outright moronic now.

There are some isolated data that the super-rich may now be more favorable to Democrats than Republicans, but by and large the classes with capital remain Republican. I looked at the American National Election Studies data set for 2008. Since minorities voted overwhelmingly for Obama I limited the sample to whites. Then I broke it down by income and looked at who they voted for and which party they identified with. The data seem to indicate that Roger L. Simon should not be throwing around terms like “moronic,” as he lives in quite the glass house.



I assume at this point my liberal readers may wonder if there is a vast conservative media conspiracy to create a false model of reality. Perhaps. But I think there’s a less complicated answer: liberal social and economic elites are culturally much more prominent on a day to day level than conservative social and economic elites. By the former I mean the entertainment and media industries. So wealthy liberals may be outnumbered, but they can project their voices and attain greater visibility more easily because they have more friendly operators of the cultural megaphones. In contrast, socially liberal but broadly politically conservative plutocrats such as David Koch generally allow more folksy types such as Dick Armey to speak for them in public.

Also, there’s a weird dichotomy on the Right when it comes to their self-image, and the esteem which the rich and the not-so-rich are held. I attended a Cato Institute event in the early 2000s, and among economic conservatives there was a worry that the public did not understand the critical role that the “producers” played in our society. And yet by contrast there is also an element of the Right which has internalized an almost Marxist frame whereby the economic elites, the holders of capital, are delegitimized as sources of authority. Ergo, the social conservative folksy face of the American Right which takes pride in its petit-bourgeois base.

Note: My own personal sympathies lean with the Right. But I am also extremely turned off by the faux and authentic populism which is currently ascendant. A genuine conservatism accepts hierarchy, distinction of role, a certain authority given to elites and specialists. I understand why cultural conservatives feel that the elites and specialists (technocrats) can not be trusted, but it seems to have gone too far in rejecting the very concept and idea of elites and technical knowledge, welcoming a radical and revolutionary flattening of social orders.


Row – v085195 v083097
Column – v083249(r:1-9″-$20 K”;10-14″$20-$40 K”;15-17″$40-$60 K”;18-20″$60-$100 K”;21-*”$100 K+”)
Select – v081102(1)

  • Katharine

    Faux and authentic populism? That’s kind of confusing. Please explain.

    But I agree that populism unchecked by adequate respect for specialists (‘elites’ is vague enough that I’m a little confused by your use of it – cognitive elites? Because a person who just has a lot of money really doesn’t deserve to be listened to just because they have a lot of money) is stupid.

    More specifically, in my opinion, the very fact that people who participate in this sort of populism appear to actually have some sort of animus toward people who are better trained than them in an area, better educated, and generally MORE LIKELY TO NOT SCREW UP WHEN MAKING DECISIONS ABOUT THIS STUFF boggles my mind. I mean, maybe they’re resentful little a$$holes, but that’s not even remotely rational.

    If they can resent people who are better trained and better educated than them, then by gum I can resent the sheer existence of people who are sufficiently dumber than I am.

    Which I do.

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  • linda seebach

    Isn’t it also true that more education is correlated with a higher percentage of Republicans? (Except for the tiny slice at the very top, mostly academics — analagous to the “super rich.”)
    And since income and education are also correlated, is it possible to tease out how much of the disparity is attributable to the education factor, and how much to the income factor?

  • Matt

    It would be interesting to see more data at the top end. I think a category of $100K+ sets the bar too low. Even the President doesn’t want to raise taxes on those earning less than $250K. It would also be interesting to look at donations instead of party affiliation.

    My own view, backed by data that probably doesn’t even fit the standard for anecdotal, is that the Republican supporters are in the middle, sandwiched between those on the lower end who have no skin in the game, and will always vote for more benefits, and those on the top, whose standard of living is immune from the effects of unchecked government growth.

  • charlie

    You’re making the mistake that INCOME equals rich.

    It is very possible, in SF, DC, LA and NYC that 250,00/ year income for household is very middle class.

    Income doesn’t get you very far.

    Rich also doesn’t mean how much your house is worth.

    Rich means liquid.

    And those people are very Republican.

  • Mark Plus

    I second charlie’s observation. “Rich” means you derive plentiful income from sources which can’t fire you, namely, your ownership of wealth.

  • Rhacodactylus

    Charlie, I would love to see data on your claim that people with more liquid assets are Republican, i would likely agree, but why throw it out without data?
    But, I don’t get why this data is in anyways surprising. Republican policies benefit the rich over the poor, why wouldn’t people vote with their own self interests? Voting against your economic best interest is something only the poor do (Think G Dub).

  • Martin

    Beyond Republican and Democrat, I’ve always viewed conservatism as being the political philosophy which seeks to maintain the status quo — the institutions and privileges that a certain segment of society enjoys. That is why it is “conservative”, ie, against social change. That is also why in countries like the US, England and Germany, conservatives are overwhelmingly straight, white, wealthy Protestants. They are the main beneficiaries of social inequalities, and any attempt to ameliorate those inequalities, (that is, any attempt at “progress” or “progressivism”) is seen as a attempt to disenfranchise them. This is the one sense of “conservatism” that holds up across the North American and European political landscapes, which otherwise differ quite strikingly.

    Also, with regard to the wealthy being the “producers” of society, the “producers” are the main beneficiaries of privileges and social institutions that affect people’s socioeconomic outcome in significant ways. They don’t see it, and believe their life stance is entirely based on merit, for the same reason that a fish doesn’t recognize it’s in water. The environment that shapes us is all pervasive. I’m not denying that wealthy people are often smart, talented, and hard working, but that’s certainly not all there is to it. You only need to look at the legacy system in college admissions to see social privileges at work.

  • Razib Khan

    Voting against your economic best interest is something only the poor do (Think G Dub).

    the poor still vote for dems way more than the middle class or rich. even poor whites.

  • Alan Kellogg

    That’s not the message I got out of Roger’s spiel. I understood him to be talking about wealthy jerks, and they can be found in the Democratic party.

  • CJS


    I don’t think you are arguing against Simon’s point. All his examples in the post, which admittedly are all anecdotes, deal with super-rich – George Soros, the Clintons, the Obamas, the Kerrys, the Gores…

    Also, $100,000 for the rich cut off in your chart? Really? What I’d really be interested to see is a chart of how people with similar amounts of purchasing power (adjusted for cost of living, income and wealth) vote, though I don’t know where I could find that sort of info…

  • Chris T

    “But I am also extremely turned off by the faux and authentic populism which is currently ascendant.”

    The Republicans have become almost schizophrenic on economic matters. On the one hand trying to appeal to a populist base (made up of social conservatives/fiscal liberals) and their more traditional base of fiscal conservatives on the other. One could be forgiven for attempting to figure out what a conservative is by studying Republicans and coming away even more confused.

  • gcochran

    The last I looked, legacy admittees to Ivies had combined SAT scores a full 30 points lower than the other inmates. Off course, that hasn’t always been true: only for the past 45 years or so.

  • Razib Khan

    to those who enjoy blah, blahing, the wealthiest neighborhood in manhattan has the highest proportion of republicans. i’m sure it’s a coincidence.

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  • miko

    “Voting against your economic best interest is something only the poor do (Think G Dub).”

    I’m middle class, and I vote (by proxy) for social programs that benefit others and would increase my tax burden all the time, because I have a quality-of-life interest that includes the well-being of others that in many circumstances trumps my narrow economic interest. This is true of almost every non-sociopath. This is why we say “enlightened self-interest” instead of just “self-interest.”

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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