An article in the Washington Post observes the Democratic Party is making in-roads among affluent voters in formerly solid Republican states that have become more urban and developed.
But the Democrats' ascendance in prosperous areas leaves them with weak spots in key swing states such as Ohio. And it presents questions about their identity: The party that fought for the little guy against the party of the wealthy has, while still representing racial minorities, increasingly become defined by the metropolitan middle and upper-middle class.
Theorists have spent years debating what is behind the shift, but they generally agree that the parties are in a cycle in which each plays to its emerging strengths. By pressing issues such as gun rights and same-sex marriage, Republicans tightened their grip on the South and snared such states as West Virginia, but lost many business-minded voters and alienated areas such as Fairfax County, where one in seven Virginians live.
I see the Republicans losing ground due to a combination of immigration, rising population density, and higher energy costs. All these factors are pulling people into more dense and smaller housing in more dangerous areas and this reduces affordable family formation and swings white voters leftward. If the career advantage of living in and near cities rises then the economic incentive to live in urban areas will reduce baby-making by Republicans while creating incentives to vote for Democrats.
The Dirt Gap, Mortgage Gap, Marriage Gap, and Baby Gap might all be pushing many upper middle class whites toward voting for the Democratic Party. But leave aside what this does to the Republicans for the moment. What does it do to the Democrats? The smarter and more affluent people will tend to dominate any organization they join. The affluent people who have shifted toward the Democrats are bringing their brains and money with them. How have they changed the party?
The decline of the unions makes it harder to measure how the influx of affluent people have changed the Democratic Party. How much of the change is due to declining union power rather than to the arrival of upper middle class professionals and business owners? I put this out there as a question to those who might think of analytical approaches to use to come up with answers.
My guess is that the biggest change in the Democratic Party as a result of the influx of the urban affluent comes from more of a faux concern for poor people. Noblesse oblige impels the Democratic Party upper class to support more health care and educational spending for the poor. But on wages the Democratic upper class sees the poor as domestic servants. Maids, nannies, yard workers, and other servants should be cheap. Prices at the local dry cleaner should be low. So the elites of the Democratic Party want cheap labor.
We can see how far the Democratic Party has fallen under the influence of its more affluent voters with this: Obama doesn't want to alienate his upper middle class supporters with tax increases on them.
"If you are a family making $250,000 or less, we will not raise your taxes," he said. "Not your income tax. Not your payroll tax, not your capital gains tax. Not any tax. We will cut your taxes. So I'm happy to have a debate about taxes with John McCain."
Those who earn very high salaries are going to pay more taxes under President Obama. But do not be fooled by this. Clearly the Democratic Party does not represent the interests of manual labor.