Swing States

Swing States:

West Virginia is voting today. According to Wikipedia, it's one of the three "swing states" in the South (assuming one counts WV, FL or Arkansas as "Southern" -- a point that might be debated).

In West Virginia the Democratic Party still enjoys a numerical advantage in registered voters. It looks like Sen. Clinton will be getting a lopsided number of those voters on her side -- something better than a thirty-point margin. Of the other two "Southern" swing states, Florida and Arkansas, Clinton won 70-26 in Arkansas, and won Florida under the odd circumstances of which we are all aware.

However, Clinton is increasingly unlikely to be the nominee.

So it looks like this will not be the year that the Democratic Party tries to reform its message in a way that will appeal to Southerners. In a way, that makes sense: the public mood for change has never been higher. 2006 was also a "change" election -- the Democrats won every single educational grouping, for example, as well as both males and females.

So why are we doing it all again? Amusingly, the answer is that the Democrats have been so incompetent.

The Democratic Congress has been so worthless, voters currently blame all problems on Bush and the Republicans -- who, in spite of not controlling Congress these last two years, seem to be the only ones who ever get their way on anything in government. This probably explains the Communist Party USA's demand to "end right-wing control of Congress." The Speaker of the House from San Francisco is so incompetent that she can't get Rep. Obey or her other fellow party members to line up with her, so it's the "right wing's" fault: they actually manage to vote together some of the time.

As a result, this change election is about changing out Republicans for Democrats in the minds of most of the electorate. It's about making the same change as in 2006 all over again, "but harder this time." If we do it hard enough, even these idiots might be able to pass a damn law once in a while.

Well, OK. Rational or not, that does suggest a Democratic victory in November. On the other hand, a victory can be broad or narrow; and given the supermajorities needed for real change (e.g., cloture votes in the Senate, which require 60 Senators), a broad change would be the thing to go for.

Instead, however, the Democratic party seems to want to push for the candidate least acceptable to swing state voters, and not just in the South: Ohio prefers Clinton to McCain to Obama.

So what? The overall trends are so negative for McCain and Republicans in general, why not get while the getting is good?

I think the answer has to do with the nature of the Democratic Party's constituency. Recent elections have shown that Republicans do best among those with high school educations, some college, and those with college degrees. Those who did not finish high school and those who have postgraduate degrees tend to prefer Democrats by large margins.

What do the two groups, highest and lowest, have in common? One thing: the sense that the system doesn't work for them. This makes sense for lower-education voters: they really do tend to be on the bottom, socially and economically. Whether it's their fault or the system's fault, or some combination of the two, it is easy to see why they would resent living in a system where people like them drift downward.

But why do the most highly-educated people favor Democrats? The problem was explained, and predicted, by economist Joseph Schumpeter in the 1930s.

Marx believed that capitalism would be destroyed by its enemies (the proletariat), whom capitalism had purportedly exploited. Marx relished the prospect. Schumpeter believed that capitalism would be destroyed by its successes. Capitalism would spawn, he believed, a large intellectual class that made its living by attacking the very bourgeois system of private property and freedom so necessary for the intellectual class's existence. And unlike Marx, Schumpeter did not relish the destruction of capitalism. He wrote: "If a doctor predicts that his patient will die presently, this does not mean that he desires it."
The problem is resentment. Schumpeter taught that the capitalist system would create such wealth that a large class of people could make a living doing nothing but thinking and writing; and many of the smartest people of society would drift into that class.

But capitalism's real rewards aren't for the smartest, but for those who take the greatest risks. Many of these lose everything. For those who have little to gain otherwise, the risk of losing everything isn't so great -- which is why most millionaires never finished college.

For those who can do quite well, thank you, without taking those risks -- well, a reasonable appreciation of the risks suggests taking the sure but more modest gains, such as you might get with a career as a lawyer or a college professor. Being smart people, they tend to understand the risk/profit calculation, and do just that.

And then they watch people less well educated, and maybe not so smart, rush past them into wealth and power. The wealth buys access to politicial leaders, and with access comes policy preferences. And these smart folks start to get mad. They start to hate the system that preferences risk-takers over intelligent, careful, stable people. And they want to "fix" the system to raise themselves, and enshrine their class -- the class of the intellectuals -- over the others.

These people are the leaders of the modern Democratic Party. They make common cause with the poor because it's useful, but they have little idea what the problems of the poor actually are. They get what understanding they have through "listening tours" and similar things. These folks -- the ones Jeffrey was calling "the best and brightest" -- believe their intelligence and education makes them the natural leaders of mankind. They want to fix society so that they are in fact the actual leaders of mankind -- and, in return, they'll do kind things for us when they get there.

Which will be paid for through taxes. On those damn businessmen, the idiots. They never deserved all that money -- it's not right someone so stupid should have it.

The problem is that these leaders really don't understand the other half of their coalition -- more than half, in fact, since they produce the majority of the votes. The Obama critique of Pennsylvania voters ("bitter," "cling to religion and guns") arises from this basic belief: we are the natural leaders, and if we give the poor the right set of services, they will keep us in power. There is no real connection with these voters: the intellectuals are in no way part of the class that empowers them.

The Republican leaders, at least, can draw on a class of people they understand -- because they belong to it, and arise from it. Democratic leaders miss these opportunities, even in their best years, because they really don't understand the people they want to vote for them.

Consider this:
Psychologists David Sears and Donald Kinder, as well as others, found that this racial resentment was the single most important factor -- more important than even conservative ideology or political partisanship -- in explaining strong opposition to a host of government programs that either directly or indirectly benefited minorities. Of course, that doesn't mean there couldn't be principled conservative opposition to government-guaranteed equal employment or urban aid. But, according to the political psychologists, racial resentment played the largest role in fueling public skepticism.

The answers also revealed which groups within society continued to harbor racial resentment. With the help of Harvard doctoral student Scott Winship, I looked at the levels of racial resentment in ANES data from 1988, 1992, and 2000 (the questions were omitted in 1996). What Winship and I found was that resentment was highest among males rather than females, the middle class rather than the wealthy or poor, those lacking a college degree, those who worked in skilled or semi-skilled blue collar jobs or as laborers, and residents of small towns in the Midwest and South. Does that profile sound familiar? It's more or less a description of the white working-class voters who have spurned Obama and with whom John Kerry and Al Gore had trouble. The only groups that didn't evince racial animosity toward blacks were voters with post-graduate degrees and, of course, African Americans....

But the problem with implicit association tests--or tests that use subliminal cues--is deciding what they mean in the real world.
Do Republicans carry out psychology exams on the middle class to figure out what prejudices they might have? Do they then say, at the end, "But the problem is, we still don't know what this means in the real world"?

Democrats from the South, including myself, have been trying to talk the intellectual class out of this nonsense for years. I have a postgraduate degree, but I have also been poor in the South: we got by on $15,000 a year at one point. I'm part of one of the classes you want to vote for you, have been part of the other, and have cultural reasons to continue to think of myself as a Democrat even though the party refuses to listen to anything I say, and is led by people who despise my home.

Such argument hasn't worked -- the South has factored less and less in the calculus of the Democratic leadership in every election cycle. They consider the South unredeemable, mired in cultural issues they can't understand or engage; and so write off a third of the Senate in even the most friendly election year.

So again this year, as West Virginia makes clear what its preferences are -- following Florida and Arkansas, and in the face of Ohio working-class voters' clear warnings -- the intellectuals will be picking their favorite instead.

Does that mean McCain wins in November? No, but it means he has a fighting chance. I'm glad about that, because he's a better candidate than either Clinton or Obama -- especially Obama. Of course, if you really listened to the people you want to vote for you, you'd have better candidates, too.

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