A few weeks ago I flagged a BBC broadcast in which political theorist David Runciman said:
It is striking that the people who most dislike the whole idea of healthcare reform – the ones who think it is socialist, godless, a step on the road to a police state – are often the ones it seems designed to help. . . . Right-wing politics has become a vehicle for channelling this popular anger against intellectual snobs. The result is that many of America’s poorest citizens have a deep emotional attachment to a party that serves the interests of its richest.
I pulled up a bunch of graphs demonstrating that the people who dislike healthcare are primarily those over 65 (who already have free medical care in America) and people with above-average income and that, more generally, America’s poorest citizens overwhelmingly vote for the Democratic party.
Runciman replied that he was talking not just about average attitudes but about the level of anger, and Megan Pledger wrote: “You are talking about groups of people with the highest proportion of people against health reforms. Runciman is talking about people with the higest degree of opposition to the health reforms. . . . But it’s a big call to think degree of opposition amongst people who oppose is distributed the same between demographic groups.
In the meantime, there’s been some polling of people involved in anti-Obama “tea party” protests. Evan McMorris-Santoro writes:
“Of this core group of Tea Party activists, 6 of 10 are male and half live in rural areas,” CNN reports. “Nearly three quarters of Tea Party activists attended college, compared to 54 percent of all Americans . . . ” Sixty-six percent of the tea party activists reported an income higher than $50,000 per year. Among the overall sample in the poll, that figure was 42%.
This is no surprise: we already know that conservative Republicans are likely to have high incomes:
But I think it pretty much shoots down Runciman’s claim that the rallies represent the popular anger of America’s poorest citizens.
P.S. These statistics should not be taken as some sort of debunking of the tea party movement. Upper-middle-class people are allowed to express themselves politically, and these are often the people who have the free time to get involved in politics. The classic Verba, Schlotzman, and Brady book of 1995 has lots of evidence that all sorts of political participation are more common among higher-income Americans.