May 8, 2008
By Michael Franc
Pundits have feasted on Barack Obama's recent musing that
Pennsylvania's rural citizens "cling" to their religion and guns
out of embittered economic desperation. Thus far, they have focused
on whether Obama is an elitist who views religion as a crutch and
whose copy of the Constitution somehow lacks the Second
More important, though, is whether Obama's remarks reflect the
emerging demographic transformation of the Democratic party from a
bottom-up "party of the people" into a holding pen for all sorts of
economic and educational elites. One way to test this is to look at
who has been making presidential campaign contributions during the
2008 election cycle. Thanks to the way the Federal Election
Commission collects this data, we can sort contributions according
to a donor's occupation or employer.
The Democrats' penetration of America's elites is evident when we
look at how the two parties fare among those at the very top rungs
of corporate America.
Through May 1, the Democratic presidential field has suctioned up
a cool $5.7 million from the more than 4,000 donors who list their
occupation as "CEO." The Republicans' take was only $2.3 million.
Chief financial officers, general counsels, directors, and chief
information officers also break the Democrats' way by more than
two-to-one margins. The Democrats' advantage among "presidents" is
a less dramatic but still significant $7.2 million to $6.1 million.
And this isn't new: In 2004 all but one of these categories of top
corporate officers broke just as dramatically for the Democrats,
the "presidents" being the exception.
Republicans do somewhat better further down the corporate food
chain, but still lose the competition for contributions from
executive vice presidents, vice presidents, and managers.
Wall Street firms, long a symbol of American elite accomplishment,
also tilt decisively toward the Democrats. Employees in storied
Wall Street institutions such as Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs,
Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley have all favored the Democratic field
by a large margin. Even both sides of the recent Bear Stearns/JP
Morgan Chase deal choose Democratic candidates over Republicans by
Democrats also enjoy enormous fundraising advantages among
well-educated professionals -- lawyers, teachers, accountants,
journalists and writers. They carry practitioners of the hard
sciences, winning solidly among physicians ($8 million to $4
million), biologists, chemists, physicists, and plain old
scientists. Republicans must settle for a slender advantage among
Not surprisingly, universities offer Democrats a hotbed of
support. Professors favor Democrats over Republicans by a
nine-to-one margin ($3.7 million to $430,000). Their students,
though presumably struggling with sky-high tuition bills,
nevertheless sacrificed enough late-night pizza and chips to send
$4.1 million to their professors' favorite candidates and another
$1.4 million to the GOP. The "objective" media -- reporters,
journalists, publishers and editors -- also breaks heavily for the
Democrats. But no listed occupation gives the Democrats a greater
edge than the unemployed. These presumably idle folks have dropped
over $14.6 million into the laps of the Democrats. Their idle
Republican neighbors, in contrast, have unburdened themselves of a
mere $9,775. Go figure.
Who favors the Republicans? The Democratic field, after all,
enjoys an overall fundraising edge in excess of $200 million, so
any pocket of Republican strength is noteworthy.
In this upside-down campaign season when populist GOP campaigners
like John McCain and Mike Huckabee surprised the pundits with their
primary victories or, in the case of Ron Paul, their fundraising
prowess, it almost makes sense that the party of the country club
set has been winning the fundraising race among the common man.
That's right. The white-shirt/red-tie brigade of Republican
presidential aspirants holds a nearly three-to-one edge among
janitors, custodians, cleaners, sanitation workers, factory
workers, truckers, bus drivers, barbers, security guards, and
secretaries. While Democrats command the financial loyalty of
architects, Republicans successfully woo contributions from the
skilled craftsmen who turn their blueprints into reality --
specifically, contractors, hardhats, plumbers, stonemasons,
electricians, carpenters mechanics, and roofers. This trend extends
to the saloons, where the Democrats carry the bartenders and the
Republicans the waitresses. The GOP field even secures more
financial support from teamsters, steelworkers, bricklayers, and
That's the good news for the GOP. The bad news is that fewer of
these politically active citizens contribute to campaigns and, when
they do, they contribute far less than their elite brethren.
What should we make of all this? National political parties, after
all, reflect their supporters, and party leaders traditionally feel
a responsibility to cater to their supporters' whims. A party that
receives overwhelming support from elite Wall Street investment
firms, corporate bigwigs, and highly educated professionals may
find it exceedingly difficult to raise their taxes or impose
draconian new Big Government regulations on them. Similarly, a
party that is losing well-educated suburban professionals and
gaining support from blue-collar workers may find it more difficult
to support free trade agreements and embrace globalization.
Washington Democrats have already adapted their Big Government
instincts to this new reality. They have designed government
guarantees, subsidies or handouts to address the insecurities of
middle- and upper-income American families. Think of the new
subsidies proposed on Capitol Hill for higher education, more
generous flood insurance for vacation homes, bailouts for
homeowners with mortgages as high as $730,000 and welfare-style
health coverage for kids in middle-income families, and you get the
Their Republican counterparts, meanwhile, have struggled over how
best to sell the benefits of limited government, lower taxes, and
free markets to the elites who used to love them or their new, more
populist constituent base. Addressing this new reality may be the
most important challenge both major parties face in the months and
is Vice President of Government Relations for The Heritage
First appeared in National Review Online
Pundits have feasted on Barack Obama's recent musing that Pennsylvania's rural citizens "cling" to their religion and guns out of embittered economic desperation. Thus far, they have focused on whether Obama is an elitist who views religion as a crutch and whose copy of the Constitution somehow lacks the Second Amendment.
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