Charles Murray wrote a much-discussed new book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.”
David Frum quotes Murray as writing, in an echo of now-forgotten TV personality Tucker Carlson, that the top 5% of incomes “tends to be liberal—right? There’s no getting around it. Every way of answering this question produces a yes.”
[I’ve interjected a “perhaps” into the title of this blog post to indicate that I don’t have the exact Murray quote here so I’m relying on David Frum’s interpretation.]
Frum does me the favor of citing Red State Blue State as evidence, and I’d like to back this up with some graphs.
Say “top 5%” to Murray, and his imagination conjures up everything he dislikes: coastal liberals listening to NPR in their Lexus hybrid SUVs. He sees that image so intensely that no mere number can force him to remember that the top 5% also includes the evangelical Christian assistant coach of a state university football team. . . .
To put it in graphical terms:
In blue America (where Charles Murray, David Brooks, David Frum, and I live), rich people are a bit more economically conservative then poor people but this is balanced by rich people being more socially liberal. As a result, rich and poor have similar voting patterns in the blue states.
In contrast, in red America (where Charles Murray and David Brooks locate the forgotten majority), rich people are both economically and socially conservative (at least they were in 2000, which is when the data for this graph came from).
America’s top 5% of income includes rich households in red, purple, and blue America—and, as the graph above shows, this represents a large variation in political views.
Another way to put it is that, as we say in our book, the culture war is not a battle between rich liberals and poor (or middle-class) conservatives or even a battle between rich conservatives and lower-income liberals. Rather, the culture war is between rich liberals and rich conservatives.
It’s not the Prius vs. the pickup truck, it’s the Prius vs. the Hummer.
There are more rich conservatives than rich liberals (just as there are more rich Republican voters than rich Democratic voters) but the minority of upper-income Americans who are rich do play an important role in our society. It’s worth spending some time thinking about rich liberals, but it’s also worth remembering that most rich Americans are not liberal.
I think Charles Murray is interested in religion too, so let me throw in this set of graphs that subsets the population according to religious attendance:
Just to hack at this a little more: data from 2000, 2004, and 2008 showing the income distribution of voters self-classified by ideology (liberal, moderate, or conservative) and party identification (Democrat, Independent, or Republican):
There are more rich conservatives than rich liberals.
And here are some maps of how different ethnic groups voted in 2008 (click for the large version):
The second row of maps gives the answer to your questions about white America, or at least those white Americans who vote. (The evidence is that, compared to voters, nonvoters have lower income and are more likely to favor income redistribution. So I don’t think that moving from “white voters” to “white America” would change our story.)