Gene Expression

Dept. of Enduring Myths:

I’ve just come back from a weekend in Vermont — and here’s how I understand it: Modestly off people — “real Vermonters,” as some people say — are voting for McCain and Palin. Comfortably off people, such as those who own ski chalets, are voting for Obama and Biden. And the following has been frequently noted about the city of my residence, New York: The rich are voting Democratic. And those who work for them — driving cars, cleaning rooms, and so on — are voting Republican.

Yet, when I was growing up, the Republican party was always called the party of the rich, and it still suffers from that label. Over and over, that which I was taught is contradicted by the evidence of my lived experience.

Before I could even put together some charts, Yglesias & Gelman had struck. But I have something to offer; in 2006 there were some things called “exit polls.” You can find them on the internet using something called “google.” So I looked up the exit polls for Vermont, and look what I found….




As for New York City, using a resource called Wikipedia I found this about the Upper East Side (an entry which I admit I had read beforehand because I am a glutton for little items I like to term “facts”):

Given its very high population density and per capita income ($85,081 in 2000), the neighborhood is believed to be the greatest concentration of individual wealth in the nation. As of 2000, 75.6% of adults (25+) had attained a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The Upper East Side is one of few areas of Manhattan where Republicans constitute more than 20% of the electorate. In the southwestern part of the neighborhood Republican voters equal Democratic voters (only such area in Manhattan), whereas in the rest of the neighborhood Republicans are between 20 and 40% of the registered voters.

i-4b4d1b98e286afb6c66d6c37e8c413a4-115016_d.jpgIt is more complicated than rich people voting Republican, and poor people voting Democrat. But saying that the Republicans are the party of the wealthier while the Democrats are the party of the poorer is correct to a first approximation. The inverse is what we might call “wrong.” It is interesting to me how political factions continuously egg-on their least reality-based pundits to reinforce their presuppositions. This is one on the Right. The idea that women support abortion rights to a greater extent than men is an analogous one on the Left & mainstream elite press (which is socially liberal, if not fiscally so). Polling & survey data never support this contention.* Just as Republicans wish to portray Democrats as effete limousine liberals, so the pro-choice side prefers to typecast the anti-abortion movement as men who want to take the rights of women away. Yes, the pro-life movement does want to revoke the right of women to have an abortion, but it is an equal opportunity push.

* Like the data on wealth & political party, there are some further details which suggest reasons why this more general perception might emerge naturally.


  1. #1 agnostic
    November 3, 2008

    I think an important reason why talky people don’t know jackshit anymore is that it’s so easy to insulate yourself from the rest of the world nowadays. Just imagine Thomas Malthus walking around barely industrial England, and seeing all orders and ages of people among his congregation.

    The typical pundit’s experiences now are an echo chamber of his own, since sorting is so easy: probably no more than a 10-year age range centered on the pundit’s own age, virtually identical in class and income (maybe the only thing they really pick up is the diff b/w old money and new money), mostly the same race, same cultural interests, political beliefs, etc.

    I miss the high school days when it was like pre-industrial society, with everyone crammed together (as in the cafeteria diagram from Mean Girls, or the cafeteria scene from Heathers). People actually had a clue what they were talking about when they were that age.

  2. #2 brook
    November 3, 2008

    The other problem is defining terms. Traditionally in VT republicans have been fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Which actually describes our democrats and socialists too. These things are still important to us (I went to a Halloween party a couple of years back as a VT republican, chanel suit of my grandmother’s plastered with liberal buttons. Everybody got the costume). So we will vote for the person who best personifies those values. Unfortunately, on a national level at least, the republican party has flipped their concerns even as they’ve managed to convince working class folk that they’re the party of fiscal responsibility.

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