Culture, Not Class

Ron Brownstein writes a fascinating article in today’s LA Times in which he suggests that it is no longer class but culture that determines who favors the Democratic Party in national elections. I would argue that the same is somewhat true for the Republican Party if you consider southern evangelicals and small business owners more of a culture than a class. This is not too far from what I’ve suggested earlier this week that the splits in the parties are between Starbucks and Sanka, and Jesus or Adam Smith.

Brownstein points out that the old truism that the wealthy vote Republican is increasingly not true. In fact, high income professionals increasingly vote Democratic. Why? Well, for one thing, Clinton managed the economy and our fiscal situation much better than Bush or the Republican Congress. But another factor that seems to drive it is culture – high income earners with postgraduate degrees tend to agree with Democrats more about social and cultural issues. To quote Brownstein:

“The up-scaling of the Democratic race reflects both long-term trends and short-term dynamics. The long-term trend is a generation-long shift in the nature of both major parties’ electoral coalitions. In the first decades after the New Deal, Republicans consistently ran best among upper-income families, managers and professionals, while Democrats relied primarily on the votes of industrial and other working-class voters.

That alignment eroded in the 1960s and 1970s, as Republicans attracted more blue-collar voters, mostly by stressing conservative views on social issues and national security. Flipping the picture, Democrats in the 1970s began attracting upper-income, white-collar voters — especially those with advanced education — who tended toward more liberal positions on those non-economic issues.

These mirror-image incursions have moved the parties from an electoral competition that turned mostly on class to one that revolves primarily around culture. Republican presidential candidates still carry most upper-income voters. But their advantage is no longer as reliable or as monolithic, as Democratic support has increased particularly among professionals with postgraduate degrees, like lawyers or professors. When John F. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960, he won just 42 percent of such professionals, according to the University of Michigan’s post-election surveys; when John F. Kerry lost the presidency in 2004, he carried 56 percent of them.”

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