Republicans for Redistribution

by David Leonhardt, NY Times

An issue that splits one party and unifies the other.

That’s one of the summary points from a fascinating new poll by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, a political science research group.

The poll shows that Democrats hold consistent views on economic policy across income groups. Both affluent and lower-income Democrats, for example, overwhelmingly favor a higher minimum wage, higher taxes on the rich and paid family leave.

Republicans are different. High-income Republicans tend to oppose these progressive economic policies. But most lower-income Republicans support them.

“About 19 percent of Republicans held economic policy positions closer to the average Democrat than the average Republican, placing them on the ‘economic left,’” write Lee Drutman, Vanessa Williamson and Felicia Wong, in their summary of the poll.

You can see the pattern in the chart above. It depicts voters, based on both their income and their attitude on economic issues. On the Democratic chart, there are not many blue dots in the lower half of the chart, where economic conservatives show up. On the Republican chart, there are a lot of red dots on the upper half, where economic progressives are. The upper left quadrant of that chart — which depicts economically left-leaning lower-income Republicans — is notably busy.

The political upshot

This pattern explains why I often argue that Democrats have a chance to win over swing voters by running populist, economically focused campaigns.

Many low- and middle-income Republicans — as well as independents and some Democrats — are socially conservative. They’re religious, and they are either conservative or moderate on abortion, immigration and other issues. When political campaigns focus on social issues, these voters are primed to vote Republican.

Yet when campaigns focus on economics and on fairness, these same voters suddenly have reason to vote Democratic. And if even a small percentage of Republicans or independents defect, it can decide an election.

Other tidbits from the new study:

  • “Two-thirds (67 percent) of Republicans on the economic left were women.”
  • “Republicans on the economic left were distinguished by their concern for Social Security and Medicare.”
  • “Lower-income Democrats were nine percentage points more likely than higher-income Democrats to see individual responsibility as being a good explanation for economic inequality (48 percent vs. 39 percent).”
  • Democrats won a greater share of economically progressive independents in 2018 than in 2016. The party made no progress among Republicans who lean left on economics. In both years, Democrats won less than 15 percent of this group.

Winning these voters won’t be easy. But a presidential campaign receives a lot more attention than a midterm, which makes national messaging more feasible. Barack Obama did better with swing voters than Hillary Clinton in part because he ran a more populist, economically focused campaign. It really is possible.I

David Leonhardt is a former Washington bureau chief for the New York Times, and was the founding editor of The Upshot and head of The 2020 Project, on the future of the Times newsroom. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, for columns on the financial crisis. @DLeonhardt • Facebook


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