CBSN

Middle Class Blues

Donkey (democrats beaten up) with a black eye and leg in a sling wearing a suit over a the capitol dome and US flag
AP / CBS
This column was written by Gary Andres.
You wouldn't know it from reading the mainstream media, but Democrats are plagued by middle class blues. Despite John Kerry and others courting them with populist rhetoric and targeted get-out-the-vote efforts, large majorities of middle class voters chose President Bush and congressional Republicans in last fall's elections. While a little political Prozac may be required, some believe Democrats need stronger medicine to overcome an even more serious malady -- denial about their standing with the bourgeoisie.

So says a recent study by a group called "Third Way," based on 2004 exit-poll data from the Roper Center at the University of Connecticut. Interestingly, Third Way is not a Republican-leaning group crowing about the GOP conquests in the 2004 election. No, instead it's a "non-partisan not-for-profit strategic advocacy organization devoted to modernizing the progressive cause." Or in the words of a former Democratic Hill aide who knows it well, "an organization devoted to moderating the Democratic party and saving it from extinction."

Despite all the time, energy, and rhetoric Democrats spend trying to curry favor with "middle class" voters, their efforts are falling flat. With a couple of exceptions, instead of mining a Democratic electoral mother-lode, these voters delivered landslide margins to President Bush and congressional Republicans. For example, the report concludes that "George W. Bush defeated John Kerry by 22-points among middle class whites with incomes between $30,000 and $75,000." House Republicans won the same income group by 19 points.

Republican support among lower-middle-class white voters continued down the income scale more than suggested by conventional wisdom. The report says "The economic tipping point -- the household income level at which whites were more likely to vote for Republicans than Democrats -- was $23,700." Middle-class black voters, on the other hand, voted overwhelmingly for Democrats (by a nine to one margin) -- a spread so large, according to the report, it "masked the enormous deficit Democrats faced with other middle income demographic groups."

Two other conclusions in the report could send Democrats into a catatonic state. First, Third Way finds, "A rapidly growing Hispanic middle class is leaving the Democratic Party." And, "The entrance of married women into the middle class led to a dramatic increase in Republican support."

After all the debate about the extent of Republican gains among Hispanics, the Third Way report offers a somewhat different perspective, one focusing on income groups. For example, Hispanics become more apt to vote Republican as they move up the income scale. And the Hispanic population is not only growing, but it is becoming more affluent. And the more affluent Hispanics become…you guessed it -- time for more political Prozac for the Democrats.