When I was a boy (I’m 75 now), my father and uncles told me that the Ebersoles were Democrats because the Democrats were the party of the working man. We revered the memory of Franklin Roosevelt. But the legacy of FDR’s New Deal—the social safety net, the defense of organized labor and regulation of financial speculation—is under attack, and the Democratic leadership no longer represents the political coalition that put President Roosevelt into office.
Thomas B. Edsall, a brilliant political reporter, has long contended that that the Democratic Party is a top-and-bottom coalition dominated by a well-educated, culturally liberal, relatively affluent white elite, whose power depends on its ability to mobilize minorities and poor people.
He wrote in November that the Obama administration is resigned to the fact that white high school graduates aren’t going to vote for Democrats, and that the Democrats hope to win with the votes of African-Americans, Hispanics and white college-educated professionals. More recently Jonathan Chait wrote in New York magazine that the growth in numbers of the latter three groups will enable the Democrats to defeat resentful white Republican blue-collar and middle-class voters.
The problem with this is that there is little community of interest between affluent white liberals and poor blacks and Hispanics. And, as Edsall pointed out, there is plenty of potential for conflict between blacks and Hispanics.
To the extent his analysis is correct, the American political outlook is dim. The Democratic Party, in this view, is run by a socially liberal elite that mobilizes blacks, Hispanics, poor people, students and feminists against allegedly selfish and prejudiced Republican white people, while the Republican Party is run by an economically conservative elite which mobilizes working-class and middle-class white people against allegedly parasitic Democratic minority groups.
What you would have is, on the one hand, a party in which the Haves advance the interests of the Have-Nots at the expense of the Have-a-Littles, and, on the other, a party in which the Haves advance the interests of the Have-a-Littles at the expense of the Have-Nots. Such a political lineup would be poisonous to American democracy. It would mean the power of the elites would never be challenged.
To what degree is this an accurate picture of American politics? I think it is largely true, but I hope for a political realignment, and I believe it is possible. I found a couple of web sites with charts and statistics that throw some light on this subject.
Click on The usual torrent of graphs and How did white people vote? for data from a statistician named Andrew Gelman on his Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference and Social Science web log. He refuted a statement that the upper 5 percent of income earners were political liberals, and published charts showing that, within the different states, the lower income brackets of all ethnic groups tended to vote more Democratic and the upper income brackets more Republican.
His figures suggest that the picture isn’t as stark as Edsall and others say. But the fact that rich white people are overwhelmingly Republican does not mean that affluent white Democrats are not influential within their part.
Click on White Flight for analysis by Ronald Brownstein for National Journal. Brownstein’s data indicate that the Democrats have stronger support among white people with college educations than other white people.
Click on The Future of the Obama Coalition for Thomas B. Edsall’s column in the New York Times.
Below are two maps I took from Gelman’s web log and a map from Brownstein’s article.