Republicans, the middle class party

By Razib Khan | August 6, 2010 11:14 am

In my post below I refuted the contention that the Democrats are the party of the rich. As I noted there is some evidence that the super-rich may tilt Democrat. There are some economic and social sectors which lean Democratic because of their social liberalism, but there is no preponderance that I have seen in the data for the rich identified with that party. As I have observed, even in New York City, one of the citadels of cultural liberalism, the wealthy tend to be more Republican. The only precinct in Manhattan with more Republicans than Democrats is in the Upper East Side across from Central Park.

But there is more granular nuance here. In Andrew Gelman’s Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State he reports data which shows that though Democratic leaning states tend to be wealthier, on average within those states the wealthy tend to vote Republican. Another detail is that the correlation between income and voting Republican is weaker within Democratic leaning states, but very stark in Republican states. Even when you control for race in states like Mississippi this remains the case. Gelman’s data and analysis tends to rebut the argument in What’s the Matter with Kansas?.

And yet going back to the aggregate, there’s still more to be said. As noted in the comments there is actually data to suggest that the modal Republican is middle class, while Democrats have a more varied socioeconomic coalition. Quite often middle class Republicans tend to be above average in income and wealth, but are not necessarily college educated. By contrast, the lower classes lean strongly Democratic. The upper classes are more polarized. So one model using the aggregate Democrat and Republican coalitions is that the former are an alliance between the lower class, minorities,  knowledge professionals and liberal wealthy, and the latter are a coalition between the middle class, the business class, and the conservative wealthy.

Below are some data from the GSS. The survey was taken in 2006, and had a variable which inquired into household wealth. I looked at voting for Bush, Republican identification, and liberal and conservative orientation, for whites. As one ascends education, intelligence, an wealth, the ideological landscape becomes more polarized, so I thought that showing “one half of the equation” was misleading in the last case. I added the tick-marks for confidence intervals since the sample sizes get small as you go up the class ladder.

Note: The previous post brought out a lot of empty and baseless (aside from one’s own self-worth) commentary in people, some of which I did not publish. I understand that political posts tend to bring the worst out in people, but try to keep it under control unless you want to waste time tapping away at a keyboard and not having anything to show for it. Having your comment published is not a right. Here’s a link to the GSS ANES browsers.


Row – wealth(r:1-3″Less than $40 K”;4-5″$40 – $75 K”;5-6″$75 – $150 K”; 7″$150 – $250 K”;8″$250 – $500 K”;9″$500 – $ 1 million”;10-12″More than 1 million”)
Column – PRES04 partyid(r:0-2″Democrat”;3″Independent”;4-6″Republican”) polviews(r:1-3″Liberal”;4″Moderate”;5-7″Conservative”)
Select – race(1)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Data Analysis, Politics
MORE ABOUT: Data, GSS, Politics
  • dan

    yeah, the two parties basically boil down to business *owners* vs labor. reps ingeniously use social issues to distract poor and middle class reps from realizing they’re part of labor, too. on the other hand many liberals want a welfare state like Europe and i don’t think they realize that you need a homogenized country for that. it’s not fair to compare Norway to the entire US as i generally don’t have anything thing in common with: baptists, catho;ics, christians, mexicans, blacks, rural people, etc. we don’t share the same values and so the diversity is actually *bad* for the country as a whole. no progress gets made during “reform” periods. it’s more fair to compare norway vs. Vermont or Sweden vs Massachusetts.

  • Rhacodactylus

    All in all, it’s interesting data, but I don’t think it would affect my opinion of either party even if one was definitively the “part of the rich.” Rich voters can vote in ways I agree with just as poor voters can, and any corollary statistics are really not important to my overall perception of the parties. Poor or rich, I find most conservative values . . . misguided.

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  • EMJ

    It seems liberals are largely those that 1) are either in need of social services because of their low economic status or 2) are more educated, potentially because they have more information about social conditions and are better able to empathize with others.

    When I plot political viewpoint by highest degree attained (POLVIEWS by DEGREE in GSS) the most glaring finding is that moderates decline precipitously as education increases (from 43.5% at a little high school to 25% with a graduate degree). This isn’t surprising since people form their political viewpoint the more knowledge they receive about the world. However, tellingly, those who state a liberal viewpoint increase by 13.5% (from 25.8% to 39.1%) while conservatives increase by only 5% (30.7% to 35.7%) along the educational spectrum with most of the conservative increase in the category of “slightly conservative.” This shows that you’re more likely to be moderate or conservative the less education you’ve received.

    That education increases empathy is suggested when I plot selfish attitudes by highest degree attained (SELFFRST by DEGREE). Respondents asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “People need not overly worry about others,” show a marked change the more education they receive. 41.4% who have had a little high school either agree or strongly agree with that statement while this steadily decreases to only 15.8% for those with a graduate degree. At the same time 40.3% disagree or strongly disagree with that statement when they’ve had a little high school which increases to 62% for those with a graduate degree.

    When I look at income and political viewpoint it shows a correlation between income and an increase in moderate or conservative positions (POLVIEWS by INCOME). Liberals decline from 39.4% in the lowest income bracket to 25.6% in the highest. Conservatives increase from 29.3% to 37.1% and moderates increase 31.3% to 41.2%. This shows you’re more likely to be moderate or conservative the higher your income is. Income shows no correlation with the SELFFRST category.

    Some data crunching would need to be done (which I don’t have the tools to do at present) but I find it interesting that great ignorance and great wealth are two leading factors for a moderate or conservative outlook.

  • Razib Khan

    never knew about SELFFRST. interesting. you can substitute WORDSUM for DEGREE and get similar.

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  • Jane Axtell

    Since I’m not sure today what is liberal and what is conservative, I find these statistics puzzling.

    There is no older definition of liberal other than small “l” big spender, but older definitions of conservative meant living by old fashioned values, right or wrong. I don’t see old fashioned values among modern self labeled conservatives for they divorce and stay away from church more than “liberals” and while officially condemning homosexuality, find it quite agreeable privately.

    Is it really conservative to be racist as racists claim? (Racist here is exampled by policies that keep poor black males in prison during the typical family forming years. This hasn’t worked well as a means to suppress population.)

    Is it really liberal to prefer high employment, even if subsidised, to a large portion of the population supporting itself by armed robbery?

    I’m quite happy for you to print this or not. These are my real thoughts, but I’m not sure the larger world has any interest in them.

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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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