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Dear Democrats

Here's a pretty old legacy post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 20 years ago, in 2004, on the World Wide Web.

Rednecks. Hicks. Hillbillies. Dumb crackers. NASCAR Dads. Trailer trash. Joe Sixpack. Economically masochistic culture warrior fundies. Ignorant, beer-swilling, rib-eating, Bible-banging, truck-driving undereducated yokels. Poor white trash. Those people. You know the kind. The ones who are the matter with Kansas.

That’s why the Democrats lost, isn’t it? Because the True Blue are out of touch with working-class America, and because the yokels are too benighted to see that they are actually voting against their own economic interests. Right?

Wrong. Democrats, quit your whining. Quit your hand-wringing over why the working class doesn’t love you anymore. Quit saying things like:

I think the Democrats are not comfortable speaking the language that resonates with many middle-class and poorer voters: moral values, faith. That’s a message that is reassuring to many voters.

Quit blaming working-class America, and quit worrying about how to get poor people to stop electing Right-wing Republican war-mongers. Why? Because poor people don’t elect Republican war-mongers. Rich people do.

Annual Income % Bush Kerry
Under $15,000 8% 36% 63%
$15-$30,000 15% 42% 57%
$30-$50,000 22% 49% 50%
$50,000-$75,000 23% 56% 43%
$75-$100,000 14% 55% 45%
$100-$150,000 11% 57% 42%
$150,000-$200,000 4% 58% 42%
Above $200,000 3% 63% 35%

If the election were held only for people makng $50,000/year or less, John Kerry would have whipped George Bush 55%-45%. In fact, if it were held only for people making $100,000/year or less, John Kerry still would have beaten George Bush, 51%-49%.

No, that’s not just a regional dynamic. No, poor people still don’t elect Republicans in red states. Bush lost the South (49%-50%), the Midwest (44%-56%), and the West (47%-52%) among voters making $50,000/year or less. If only people making $50,000/year or less had voted, John Kerry would have picked up Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, and Virginia, and Louisiana and South Carolina would have been too close to call.

(Election data thanks to CNN Election 2004 Exit Polls.)

So, my dear Blue State Democrats, it wasn’t Joe Sixpack or the American working-class or Bubba down yonder who was responsible for the late unpleasantness. If you want to find someone to blame, don’t blame them, and don’t blame the Democrats for not knowing how to connect with them. If you’re a white dude living in a comfortable suburban neighborhood, blame your neighbors, your boss, and your dad. It’s educated professionals making over $50,000/year who went for Bush, and it was the folks making out with $100,000/year and more who put him over the top. This shouldn’t be surprising–being poor doesn’t mean you’re stupid; people tend to know where their bread is buttered and vote accordingly–yet somehow it has been lost amidst vituperation of the South, masochistic rhetoric about the urgent need for Democrats to slither further to the Right in order to reach middle America, and sadistic rhetoric about the grotesque vices of them there rednecks in Oklahoma and homophobic knuckle-draggers in Wyoming. Fancy that–it’s almost as if Democrats were falling victim to some kind of propaganda or ideology or something.

Here is my modest proposal. For myself, I’m fed up with this crap, so I’m not going to worry too much about it, but if Democrats want to put a roadblock in the way of Bushism then it might behoove them to worry about it some themselves. You just won, convincingly, the working-class vote. You got beat on turnout and disenfranchisement. People making $50,000 / year or less are about 75% of the voting-age population; but they were only 45% of those who were willing and able to vote on November 2. If you want to win, what you have to do is not to slither ever further Right, but rather to energize your base to turn out, and fight back against on-going Republican attempts to purge and suppress their votes. You can do that, not by turning into lite war-mongers, but by having the guts to call Bullshit! on this rich man’s war and poor man’s fight. You can do that, not by trashing feminism and gay liberation, or ignoring them as you just finished doing in 2004, but rather by framing them as part of a comprehensive, populist program, together with some serious talk about class in America. (No, this does not mean that I want Smiley John Edwards as the next candidate.) You can do this, not by capitulating to the Republican’s corporatist pork / warfare program, but by defying it. And you can do this by standing up to make sure that every vote is counted and that the victims of the Republican machine (those working class dudes you want to reach out to so much) actually have an opportunity to vote.

Don’t blame Bubba–but don’t try to pander to the caricature of him that the Republicans want you to buy, either. Try sitting down and having a talk with him over some ribs sometime. You might be surprised to find out how much you agree.

5 replies to Dear Democrats Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Discussed at www.mises.org

    Mises Economics Blog:

    Rednecks or Greenbacks?

    [cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire and Liberty & Power] An interesting economic demographic from Charles Johnson: contrary to much Democratic hand-wringing and Republican gloating, it appears that Kerry won the working-class vote, even in the …

  2. jomama

    Well, hell, I feel left out.

    I make less than $20,000 a year, wrote “Nobody but me” on my ballot and stuffed it in the ballot box I keep at my house.

    Where do I fit in?

    Lonely and loving it,


  3. Jeff

    You statistics are nice, but mine indicate the “educated” population would have voted for Kerry over Bush. I redistributed electoral votes to give states more weight who had higher “educations” (more bachelors degrees) This is not to say that I think anyone’s vote should count less. (just stats fun) Anyway, see for yourself, but this contradicts some of your points… Let me know if you have problems accessing my stats.

  4. Rad Geek

    You statistics are nice, but mine indicate the “educated” population would have voted for Kerry over Bush. I redistributed electoral votes to give states more weight who had higher “educations” (more bachelors degrees) This is not to say that I think anyone’s vote should count less. (just stats fun) Anyway, see for yourself, but this contradicts some of your point…

    This is all good fun, but it’s bad statistical reasoning.

    Weighting state-level returns by the percentage of bachelor’s degree holders and drawing conclusions about individual voter behavior from it mires you in the ecological fallacy. (The classic example: in the early 20th century in Alabama, counties with higher Black populations consistently had higher rates of Klan activity. But it hardly follows from that that most members of the Klan were Black.)

    In fact, if you look at exit polls, the consistent picture that you see here (and in previous elections) is that at the level of individual voter behavior, Republicans tend to stake out the middle of the educational spectrum and the Democrats tend to stake out the top and the bottom: people with no high school diploma and people with postgraduate study broke for Kerry; people with a high school diploma, some college, or a bachelor’s degree broke for Bush. In fact, until you got to the break at post-graduate study, it turns out that (at the national level, at least) the more education a voter had, the more likely they were to vote for Bush. (This trend includes college graduates.)

    There’s a common self-congratulatory dogma that’s emerged among comfortable liberals over the past century that the unwashed masses are the natural allies of the Right, whereas educated professionals and academics are the natural home of Leftist thought. This is a bunch of nonsense; while advanced study does tend to go along with more liberal social views, the working class has always been substantially to the Left of the academic liberals on many core issues–war and peace, economics, etc. People with more time spent in the educational system were more likely, not less, to support the Vietnam War; they are also more likely, not less, to support the occupation of Iraq today. A college degree is no guarantee of enlightenment; on some very important issues, it seems like there’s good reason to say that the educational system is systematically making people too stupid to see the obvious. That shouldn’t be too surprising, when you consider who holds the purse strings and who sets the educational agenda in this country.

— 2005 —

  1. Brian

    “Bad statistical reasoning?”

    you give bad statistical reasoning a bad name!

    Evidently you didn’t recognize that a large part of the democrat’s base consist of the elderly on fixed income, the retired, and the younger college age students who are not currently in their prime earning years – that is to say they are not “poor” just because their current wages are low. They are not necissarily the low income suburbanites that your “analysis” (and I use the term loosely) states they are- in a very insulting manner, I might add:

    the youth vote was the only age group the Democratic candidate won — John Kerry got 54 percent, compared with Bush’s 44 percent. (In 2000, Al Gore got 48 percent, Bush 46 percent.)

    Washington Post

    And you dare accuse someone else of “Bad statistical reasoning?”

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