Comedy from the Wall Street Journal

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Michael Petrilli of Hoover Institution has an op-ed encouraging the Republican party to pursue a class of voters he calls "Whole Foods Republicans" in an effort to build a winning electoral coalition. He defines these as "independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics."

His concern is that the GOP is losing ground among voters with a college education, a demographic that votes in high numbers (at least 80% or more since 1980) and is growing in size. He notes that "about 30% of Americans 25 and older have at least a bachelor's degree; in 1988 that number was only 20% and in 1968 it was 10%."

His distress is that a majority of college-educated voters (53%) pulled the lever for Mr. Obama in 2008 adding that is "the first time a Democratic candidate has won this key segment since the 1970s." I was curious and so I went back and found that not to be true. Bush and Kerry split the college vote 49% to 49% and Clinton in 1996 won 47% of those with a college degree compared to just 44% for the GOP standard bearer Bob Dole.

Still Mr. Petrilli presses on:

Some in the GOP see this trend as an opportunity rather than a problem. Let the Democrats have the Starbucks set, goes the thinking, and we'll grab working-class families. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, for instance, wants to embrace "Sam's Club" Republicans. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee pitched himself in 2008 as the guy who "looks like your co-worker, not your boss." Even Mitt Romney blasted "Eastern elites." And of course there's Sarah Palin, whose entire brand is anti-intellectual.

To be sure, playing to personal identity is hardly novel, nor is it crazy. Bill Bishop and other political analysts have noted that people's politics are as much about their lifestyle choices as their policy positions. Republicans live in exurbs and small towns, drive pick-up trucks or SUVs, go to church every Sunday, and listen to country music. Well-heeled Democrats live in cities and close-in suburbs, drive hybrids or Volvos, hang out at bookshops, and frequent farmers' markets. These are stereotypes, of course, but they also contain some truth.

Widening this cultural divide has long been part of the GOP playbook, going back to Nixon's attacks on "East Coast intellectuals" and forward to candidate Obama's arugula-eating tendencies. But with the white working class shrinking and the educated "creative class" growing, playing the populism card looks like a strategy of subtraction rather than addition. A more enlightened approach would be to go after college-educated voters, to make the GOP safe for smarties again.

What's needed is a full-fledged effort to cultivate "Whole Foods Republicans"--independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics. These highly-educated indiividuals appreciate diversity and would never tell racist or homophobic jokes; they like living in walkable urban environments; they believe in environmental stewardship, community service and a spirit of inclusion. And yes, many shop at Whole Foods, which has become a symbol of progressive affluence but is also a good example of the free enterprise system at work. (Not to mention that its founder is a well-known libertarian who took to these pages to excoriate ObamaCare as inimical to market principles.)

What makes these voters potential Republicans is that, lifestyle choices aside, they view big government with great suspicion. There's no law that someone who enjoys organic food, rides his bike to work, or wants a diverse school for his kids must also believe that the federal government should take over the health-care system or waste money on thousands of social programs with no evidence of effectiveness. Nor do highly educated people have to agree that a strong national defense is harmful to the cause of peace and international cooperation.

So how to woo these voters to the Republican column? The first step is to stop denigrating intelligence and education.

Oh the comedy. Former Alaska Governor and Tea Party darling Sarah Palin has questioned the wisdom of fruit fly research and dismissed the science of climate change as "snake-oil science." And when asked by Bill O'Reilly of Fox News if she deemed herself "smart enough, incisive enough, intellectual enough to handle the most powerful job in the world," she gave this less than erudite response:

I believe that I am because I have common sense and I have I believe the values that I think are reflective of so many other American values, and I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the uhm, the ah, a kind of spineless, spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite, Ivy league education and, and a fat resume that is based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans are could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership, I'm not saying that that has to be me.

But really you have to listen to it for yourself.

Then there was Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal griping back in January about "$140 million for something called 'volcano monitoring.' " The GOP war on science is so pervasive that Chris Mooney wrote a 300 page book on the subject in 2005. It was a book that made the New York Times bestseller list and was updated earlier this year with a paperback edition.

And then there's Senator James Inhofe who is at least in the United States is the face of global warming denialism dismissing it as "cooked science." Yesterday, Senator Inhofe was on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace and again was utterly and totally dismissive. Here's the relevant part of the transcript:

WALLACE: Whatever you want to say about the e-mails, Senator Inhofe, the fact is that just this week, the World Meteorological Organization said that this decade is the warmest on record and that 2009 is the fifth warmest year on record. Does that mean nothing? INHOFE: It — well, it means — it means very little because that was based on the same flawed science, the IPC science, that we have been looking at. Now, we have to say on the science thing that this is something that - - we saw this coming years ago, and for those individuals who doubt the fact that it's flawed science, listen to what the U.K. Daily Telegraph said. They said it's the worst scientific scandal of our generation. Publications all over have looked at this and decided that. But let me say this, Chris, because I know we're running out of time. Four years ago on the Senate floor, I gave a speech — it's in my Web site, — you can look it up — and at that time I outlined what all these scientists had come to me saying how they were denied the opportunity to give their view to the IPCC. It's all cooked science. And now when this "climategate" came out, all that did is just verify everything I said four years ago. Look it up. It's there.

While hope springs eternal for Mr. Petrilli, let me point to the work of Dr. Benjamin Bergen of the University of Hawaii at Man'oa who looked at the characteristics of states that voted for Bush in 2004. His analysis of voting patterns revealed that their populations tend to :1) lack a college education 2) be white 3) be obese and 4) shop at Wal-Mart.

I went back and looked at exit poll data going back to 1988 rather inconclusive among college graduates though 62% of college graduates did vote for Bush/Quayle in 1988 and only  45% of college graduates voted for McCain/Palin. In between these two elections, that is the 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 election cycles, the data is rather inconclusive.

Election YearCollege-Educated Share of ElectorateRepublicanDemocratic
Source: CNN & NY Times

However, I did find a strong trend favoring Democrats among those with an advanced degree. This is still a small segment of the electorate, only 17% in 2008 but it's up from just 14% back in 1988.

Election YearPost College-Degree Share of ElectorateRepublicanDemocratic
Source: CNN & NY Times

Apart from 2000 when the margin was eight percentage points, the Democratic ticket have won this demographic by landslide margins. On average since 1992, the Democratic ticket has carried by 12.6 percent.

Also note that 1992 was three way race with Ross Perot capturing 20% of college graduates and 14% of with a post-graduate degree.

Tags: GOP, Voting Demographic Patterns (all tags)



Re: education, and the intellectual elite

There's nothing "inconclusive" about your chart, or silly about Petrilli's point: as the number of college educated voters has grown, Democrats have been attracting an increasing share, and in 2008 reached an absolute majority (though Clinton took 47% for instance, that means a majority picked Bob Dole or someone else). That is a key point in election demographics and a key reason why a "Republican comeback" is so far hard to see. However one wants to fault the GOP for not doing it, Pterilli's right - without figuring out how to attract more educated, but conservative, voters, they're probably lost... and not denigrating intellectual skills would be a start (one could also observe that Bobby Jindal, who went to Brown, is not generally a good exmaple of the right's anti-intellectual failings). That said, Democrats also have a problem, neatly summed up in the final sentence: as long as lefty bloggers portray the conservative movement as representative of stupid fat people shopping at Wal-Mart...they're likely to gradually give away the votes of working class, less educated people, who deserve a little more consideration and respect... and concern for the issues they face. Not that conservatives do that well, either; but you can't be the party of the intellectual elite... and the people they step on.

by nycweboy1 2009-12-14 09:07AM | 0 recs
Re: education, and the intellectual elite

Perhaps I didn't word it correctly but among college graduates, the results largely mirror the overall results. There is no marked departure from general election. Bush and Kerry split the vote in 2004 pretty evenly among the general population and among college graduates. The 2008 results shows a one percentage point advantage for the Democrats compared to the general election.

Where the results do differ is among those with a post-graduate degree and fairly substantially.

The reason we give away the votes of " stupid fat people shopping at Wal-Mart" is that the Democratic party has ceased to be meaningfully different from the GOP on economic issues and because that demographic seems to prefer to vote their religious beliefs over their economic concerns. I have long held that the Democratic party needs to return to being a working class party.

But one also can't escape the fact in the red states, Republican voters tend to be white, obese, lack a college degree and shop at Wal-Mart.

In 1996 as in 1992, Perot accounts for the difference. I should have included that. I also would have liked to have gone back as far as 1972 but I couldn't find all the data.

There is also a difference between anti-intellectualism and stupidity. I certainly don't think Bobby Jindal anti-intellectual as much as I do incurious. If you are going to attack a program, you might take the time to look up something called 'volcano monitoring.' That does demonstrate a certain level of stupidity.

by Charles Lemos 2009-12-14 09:49AM | 0 recs
Re: education, and the intellectual elite

Charles, if you read up your charts, the trend is kind of obvious: the college educated group increases (on the left), and the Democratic share of the group goes up every 4 years (from 37% in 1988 to 53% for Obama in 2008).  I was actually amazed at the obviousness of it... and I suspect many lefties don't entirely realize it's happened, or what it means. You talk about an economic message that doesn't differ from the GOP... but I'd flip it - you can't keep increasing your share of the educated elite without essentially chasing them with positions driven to increase their choice of Democrats over Republicans. That is, the two kind of pace each other. This was a key point that Hillary supporters (me included) kept trying to make: you can win with an Obama, appealing to the educated upper middle class... or you can lose some of them and appeal to the working class. You cannot do both... and the mistake Republicans are making, in essence, is chasing the educated elite - which they're losing - instead of working harder to appeal to the group who's actually responding to them: disaffected, working class whites who already see that economic conditions are worse, not better, and surely not improving. That's not a winning formula... yet; but if the GOP can combine it's already successful appeal to working class whites and build appeals to working class Hispanics and others (which clearly would involve walking away from some of the anti-immigrant stuff) around better economic conditions and better education for their kids... they might well pick the lock on Democrats who assume that the college educated liberals share common cause with working class urban poor people, when they don't. The alternative, really, is Democrats deciding to forego some educated viters for plainer economic and political appeals to working class voters; but I suspect, given the demographics you just brought out... it's a hard case to make to abandon what's just won them the Presidency.

by nycweboy1 2009-12-14 04:16PM | 0 recs
Re: implying that the other side is dumber than us

but we won when we nominated the arugula-eating, fancy-word-using, green-tea-drinking Obama?

It's not about belittling people who vote Republicans, it's about belittling the way Republicans present themselves to these voters.

Listen to Sarah Palin some time.  Tell me the next time she says something, anything nice or gracious or humble.  It won't happen.  That ain't how she roll.

by the mollusk 2009-12-14 09:11AM | 0 recs
Re: implying that the other side is dumber than us

You do even Remember Bush?

by vecky 2009-12-14 01:53PM | 0 recs


Advertise Blogads