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Monday, November 22, 2010

Study Shows Dems Class Warfare Futile

One of the mysteries of political life is why the Democrats insist on playing class warfare even though the tactic has not worked in multiple elections (Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, the November mid-terms) since Obama's election.

A study, Inequality and the Dynamics of Public Opinion: The Self-Reinforcing Link Between Economic Inequality and Mass Preferences, released by two political science professors (Peter Enss of Cornell and Nathan Kelly of Univ. of Tenn.) sheds light on a possible reason.  The study reveals the counter-intuitive conclusion that as income disparities increase, both rich and poor become more conservative.

The paper is dense, and has the usual caveats you would expect in an academic political science paper, but here is the money quote (page 15):
... we have shown that public opinion moves in a conservative direction in response to income inequality. This conservative shift in sentiment in response to rising inequality occurs among both the rich and the poor. In fact, if politicians looked to changes in preferred welfare spending or changes in global policy preferences, it simply would not matter whether they noticed the most or least wealthy Americans; their preferences move in tandem and respond to economic inequality similarly over time.
As reported by The Cornell Chronicle:
New research findings add complexity to the basic assumption that humans act in their own economic self-interest. By analyzing hundreds of survey questions from 1952 to 2006, Peter Enns, assistant professor of government, and Nathan Kelly of the University of Tennessee found that as inequality rises, low income individuals' attitudes toward redistribution become more conservative. Their paper appears in the October issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

"It's a bit of a conundrum," Enns admits.

The researchers also examined public opinion data on the question: Should government increase spending on welfare, keep it the same or decrease it? "As inequality rose, the high- and low-income respondents on average become less supportive of spending on welfare," Enns said. "And this is not because low-income people are unaware of inequality; our results show they are more aware of it than most people."

The researchers found that higher levels of household income inequality in the United States generate more conservative public opinion. "We broke down pubic opinion by income group and found the high- and low-income groups responding in a similar way, both becoming more conservative when inequality rises," Enns said. "We were very surprised to observe that the self-reinforcing aspect of inequality holds for high- and low-income groups, and how they move together in parallel over time."
This conclusion has interesting implications, because so much of Obama's rhetoric and so much of Democratic theory is premised on the assumption that jealousy by the "poor" due to income disparities would lead to a more liberal electorate.  If the authors are correct, just the opposite happens.

So, the class warfare rhetoric is counter-productive for Democrats.  Shhhh, don't tell anyone.

(h/t to a Cornell employee and reader who shall remain unnamed for alerting me to this study.)

Related Post:
Obama The Divider, Part 101010

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  1. I would think that class warfare is mainly the rich (who can afford to be generous with other peoples money) and poor (who benefit) lined up against the middle (who can't).

  2. Very Inteesting, professor.

    I am no "expert" but the findings are both counter-intuitive and probative at the same time. Odd.

    First, the "founders" of capitalism were not working in an ivory tower, they saw how people behaved naturally. Capitalism and to a large extent classical economics are simply observed behavior. We want what is ours and we want to grow it. Most people are taught not to steal, or beg or take advantage of others. Don't you think Adam Smith saw poor people move to wealth by endeavor? Or rich people lose it all to the bottom of a port bottle?
    Second, leftism in all its forms is ivory tower academism run amok. It heavily depends on people not knowing what they "really" want and it is based on a collectivist model where it is no longer Tom and Bob but "workers."
    Third, the term "class warfare" is essentially a give-away as it indicates what the left really wants - a takeover based on as much violence as they need to accomplish the goal.
    Fourth, perhaps it goes without saying, but the leftist model is a projection onto others. THEY are angry, envious, entitled and acquisitive of other people's property, so they assume everyone else is also and that such "struggle" is normal. Being greedy, acquisitive and downright selfish they simply assume that everyone else is, too and you can appeal successfuly to the lowest common denominator.

    I hope not.
    I could be wrong but I don't believe that any capitalist writer or economist used the imagery of violence - "struggle" "Class warfare" "smash" "death to" etc etc etc anywhere near as often as the lefties.

  3. @vintagetvjunkie
    But if you look at it, besides welfare, all government spending tends to benefit the middle and upper classes. Maybe the poor have figured out they aren't receiving most of what is being doled out. The relatively well off have tax free employer health benefits, tax deductible home interest, and government subsidized college education. The poor are not able to take advantage of most of this. I think it's the middle and upper classes who've been bought off.

    Whatever it is, I like the conclusion this paper comes to. There's a difference between receiving cash now and building a better economy tomorrow, maybe more people are understanding this.

  4. I think the conservative faction in the great and famous musical 1776 had it right on this one: "Most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor."

    I readily grant, of course, that the conservative faction in the Revolution was on the wrong side of history, but that doesn't mean they didn't have some important insights into human nature.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. When you notice yourself getting poorer, you become more conservative to ensure, first, your survival, and second, that your descent into poverty at least stops. Conservative values... hard work, saving money, staying married and learning to delay gratification, all work to make you and your family more stable and better off. The sooner you start following the conservative rule book, the better off you will be.
    Most know this instinctively and act accordingly.

  7. Inflation and Sarah Palin. The Ruling Class (Codevilla), the MSM and the left says "no inflation". My Netflix account says 15% inflation. Are we going to have to bring back the misery index?

    "1. The price of your current plan is changing from $23.99 a month to $27.99 a month. This new price will be effective with your next billing statement on or after January 2, 2011
    –The Netflix Team"

  8. When someone advocating for the middle and lower classes attempts to point out that government policies and economic systems are unfairly favoring the rich, they are often accused of waging class warfare, which is a clever tactic that is designed to put an end to the topic so that the rich can go their merry way and the poor can ‘stop their whining’. So, it’s usually the lower classes that are accused of waging class warfare against the rich.

    But it actually would be better for the rich if class warfare was being waged against them; It might help them get to Heaven... http://pin¬g.fm/7gpdW

  9. I would challenge this assumption that people on the lower end of the economic spectrum are acting in their economic self-interest to support income redistribution.

    Many understand that trading economic freedom for the illusion of economic security is not necessarily in their long-term self-interest.

  10. Why do the Dems continue to use Class Warfare even though it keeps snapping back in their face? Because if the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems look like nails.