Wealthy Dems Stand by Obama

Wealthy Dems Stand by Obama

By David Paul Kuhn - August 10, 2010

Affluent Americans are Barack Obama's most secure class of support. They have stuck by this president at three to six times the rate of all other income groups since early 2009, based on a RealClearPolitics analysis.

It's a familiar story that wealthy voters have moved toward Democrats in recent years. But the remarkable steadiness of Obama's affluent support has continued with little notice. The national media has instead heavily covered Obama's tepid flings with populism.

You would think Obama's rich support was running to Republicans. It's not. Wall Street money has recently come to favor Republicans. But in broad terms, the affluent Obama vote has barely cracked.

Obama's approval rating has plummeted by 24 percentage points among those with a household income that is less than $50k annually. He's dropped 13 points within the $50k to $100k bloc over the same period. And he's fallen 17 points within the $100k to $150k bloc.

What about those households with income exceeding $150k? Obama has merely declined 4 points, based upon Gallup polling from February-March 2009 (after Obama's honeymoon ended) to June-July 2010.

Obama has tested his upper class support more than any modern presidency. He's continuously pledged to oppose tax hikes on everyone but the wealthy. That pledge is at the center of the current debate over extending the Bush tax cuts. The healthcare overhaul will increase wealthy voters' tax burden. And financial reform was hardly celebrated by the investing class.

This is why The Wall Street Journal headlined a story last summer, "Democrats' New Worry: Their Own Rich Voters." But polls have continuously shown that Democrats have far more reason to worry about those who are anything but rich. This is partly because upper class Democrats are not voting on tax policy. If they were, they'd be Republicans.

There is no simple means to measure affluent voters nationwide. A 200k salary goes far further in Milwaukee than in Manhattan. But federal tax policy ignores these factors. The Obama administration draws the line at 200k in personal annual income and 250k in household income; only 3 percent of households fall into that latter bracket.

Wealthy Americans are not only a goldmine for campaign fundraisers. They also vote more than most. Their share of the electorate is about twice their share of the population; they were 6 percent of 2008 voters.

That wealthiest bloc represented the largest marginal shift in support of any income bracket between 2004 and 2008. Obama won 52 percent of their support. George W. Bush won 63 percent of the bloc four years earlier, according to exit polls.

Yet households earning at least 150k offer a bigger picture of the affluent voter. This bloc constituted 12 percent of the 2008 electorate. It includes not only top earners but also those who can more-reasonably expect to be top earners someday. The larger sample size also offers a more accurate statistical measure.

Obama won this affluent bloc by a 50 to 48 percent margin. Bush won 60 percent of the bloc in 2004.

Affluent Americans are not broadly pleased with the president. Only 43 percent approved of Obama in June and July. But few of Obama's affluent supporters have turned on him. That's the salient point. In effect, almost half of affluent adults can be considered part of the Democratic base.

These are the Americans who especially don't vote their economic interest. They are more likely to identify as liberal, live in a city and reside near a coast.

They are also less likely to be a serious casualty of the financial crisis. The Wall Street crisis came to define the Great Recession. But about three in four job losses have been blue collar. That suggests affluent Democrats are not only voting their social interest over their economic interest. They are also less likely to have their current political allegiance questioned by their economic interest.

This helps explain why Obama's approval rating in some of the wealthiest states, like Connecticut, remains well above the national average. Democrats have been asking "what's the matter with Kansas" since the Bush years, when a liberal author wondered why Republicans' win many working class voters. But here is a rich state standing by the president who asks more of the rich. It's enough for a conservative to ask: "what's the matter with Connecticut?"

David Paul Kuhn is a writer who lives in New York City. His novel, “What Makes It Worthy,” will be published in February 2015.

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