Politics & Media
Jul 30, 2008, 10:49AM

Class Conflicted

For practically the entire history of their party Democrats have been the party of middle and working class interests. But as Obama's campaign shows, the leadership of the party is increasingly directed by affluent white collar urbanites. Does this shift in support signal a new set of priorities for Democratic policies?

Americans may dislike the term class, but it has been an essential part of our political history. And for most of our history, Democrats represented the middle and working classes, dating at least back to the days of Andrew Jackson. Under William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic Party cast itself as largely the voice of the small farmer and the working and middle classes. Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and even Bill Clinton maintained this tradition.

Yet over the past two decades, and particularly the last few years, the party’s base has shifted decisively in both demographic and geographic terms. Increasingly, the core Democratic constituency—and, even more so, the base of Senator Barack Obama’s campaign—consists not of working- and middle-class whites but of African-Americans and a rising new class of affluent, well-educated professionals.

In the mid-1990s high-income voters preferred Republicans by 20 percentage points; in 2008 they appear to be decisively favoring the Democrats. Already, the most affluent districts in the country—from Silicon Valley and Manhattan to Madison and the Washington suburbs to west Los Angeles—are also among the most solidly Democrat.

  • This is a well-argued article, but it strikes me as spin rather than sound speculation. Unless something unlikely happens, Barack Obama will win the election handily, and, as a very smart politician--unlike Jimmy Carter--will probably win a second term. I can't see the Republicans recovering for many years to come. It's possible Obama could suffer a midterm defeat in 2010, when a lot of Democratic incumbents will have, presumably, more of a challenge than this year, but the GOP will have so much ground to recover it won't matter all that much.

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  • This guy basically misunderstands the class dynamics at work. Yeah, the democratic base is becoming richer, but he wrongly assumes that rich democrats will have similar class interests compared to rich republicans. I think that's wrong. These new democrats he's talking about aren't inherently suspicious of government. They realize that there are some problems best solved by the government (infrastructure repair, health care, social security, environmental protection) and don't mind paying taxes to solve them.

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