Friday, November 23, 2007

Democrats: The New Party of the Rich

This is a new conservative meme, making its way around the right blogosphere. It is based on a Heritage Foundation (rrrright-wing) study, which the Washington Times summarized as follows:

Democrats like to define themselves as the party of poor and middle-income Americans, but a new study says they now represent the majority of the nation's wealthiest congressional districts.

In a state-by-state, district-by-district comparison of wealth concentrations based on Internal Revenue Service income data, Michael Franc, vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation, found that the majority of the nation's wealthiest congressional jurisdictions were represented by Democrats.

He also found that more than half of the wealthiest households were concentrated in the 18 states where Democrats hold both Senate seats.

"If you take the wealthiest one-third of the 435 congressional districts, we found that the Democrats represent about 58 percent of those jurisdictions," Mr. Franc said.

A key measure of each district's wealth was the number of single-filer taxpayers earning more than $100,000 a year and married couples filing jointly who earn more than $200,000 annually, he said.

But in a broader measurement, the study also showed that of the 167 House districts where the median annual income was higher than the national median of $48,201, a slight majority, 84 districts, were represented by Democrats. Median means that half of all income earners make more than that level and half make less.

Mr. Franc's study also showed that contrary to the Democrats' tendency to define Republicans as the party of the rich, "the vast majority of unabashed conservative House members hail from profoundly middle-income districts."

It sounds very convincing, does it not? There's only one problem: The study doesn't actually say that it is the rich who vote Democratic and the poor or the middle-class who vote Republican.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand what is wrong with the Times arguments is to imagine a slightly different study, one relating the percentage of blacks in a state to whether the state, on average, tends to vote Democratic or Republican. I would not be at all surprised to find in such a study that the states with the highest black populations also tend to elect Republicans to the Congress. Now, does this mean that the Republican Party is the new party of the minorities? Of course not.

And the same argument applies here: The rich are more likely to vote Republican, and especially so in states with lower average incomes. In states with higher average incomes the tendency of the rich to vote Republican is less pronounced.