Why the GOP has Lost the Elites: Michael Barone

Well-known political analyst Michael Barone looks closely at Pennsylvania, concludes Obama will win, and explains why McCain thinks he has a chance.

More importantly, he explains (here) why centrist voters  around the country have turned against the Republicans.

McCain is running even with or better than Bush in most of
Pennsylvania but is running far behind in metro Philly. My sense is
that the McCain campaign just can't believe this is true. Metro Philly,
after all, in 1988 split evenly between George H. W. Bush and Michael
Dukakis; the four suburban counties' Republican margins matched the
Democratic margins in the city of Philadelphia (conveniently
coterminous with Philadelphia County). As I've noted over the years,
affluent suburban territory like the Philly suburbs trended Democratic
in the 1990s on cultural issues and stayed there up through 2004.
(Ethnic change played a minor role. There are more blacks in the
suburban counties than in 1988, but metro Philadelphia has not had huge
population change in the last 20 years.) Now, if SurveyUSA is to be
trusted, the Philly suburbs are about to give Obama a significantly
larger percentage than the 53 percent John Kerry won there in 2004.

Why? My hypothesis is that that is because places like the Philly
suburbs are places where the recent decline in household wealth has
been most conspicuous. Housing prices mean a lot more to you when your
house started off at $400,000 and declined to $290,000 than they did
when you started off (as may be typical of Scranton or a blue-collar
town in metro Pittsburgh) at $140,000 and declined to $110,000.
Newspaper coverage of our current economic distress focuses on the very
poor (like a recent Washington Post story on North Carolina,
which focused on an ex-convict in a cheap motel in Charlotte), but the
people who are getting hurt most visibly in their lifelong project of
accumulating wealth are the more affluent. They're the ones whose house
values have most visibly and spectacularly declined, and whose 401(k)
accounts and stock portfolios have tanked in the last few months as
well. Folks in Scranton or in the cheap motel in Charlotte didn't
expect to live comfortably ever after off their increased house values,
401(k)'s, and Merrill Lynch accounts; a $700 monthly check from Social
Security is about what they have long expected and that's not in danger
(yet). Folks in the Philly suburbs did expect to live comfortably off
such assets.

I noted long ago in the introduction to my 1994 Almanac of American Politics that
George H. W. Bush's percentages declined between 1988 and 1992 by the
greatest amount in southern California and New Hampshire—places that
had "a spectacular collapse of residential real estate values" between
those two years.
You couldn't go to New Hampshire in the run-up to the
1992 presidential primary without hearing people tell you how the house
that used to be worth $350,000 was worth only $210,000 now. I concluded
that the economic factor most important in voting behavior was
switching from short-term income to long-term wealth. These
Pennsylvania numbers tell me that I was on the right track but that the
explanation is a little more complex. High-income, high-education
voters in the suburbs of big metro areas, my hypothesis goes, are
preoccupied with long-term wealth accumulation—and react sharply
against the Republican Party when their wealth is suddenly sharply
diminished when there is a Republican president. Modest-income,
modest-education voters in less affluent surroundings, it seems judging
from McCain's relatively good showing in Pennsylvania outside the
heavily populated southeast, react much less sharply, because they have
never expected to accumulate all that much in the way of wealth anyhow
consider themselves reasonably well protected by the existing safety
net and feel free to vote (as more affluent Philly suburbanites have
done in better times) on the basis of their opinions (conservative in
their case) on cultural issues. The affluent are less afraid of the tax
increases that Obama promises them than they are shocked by the
negative effect on their wealth from the collapse of the housing bubble
and the sharp decline in stock prices.

This argument makes a lot of sense. Barone goes on to argue that Obama will, like John Lindsay in New York, fail as a politician because he won't recreate the wealth under his administration that these voters lost under Bush.

This isn't convincing. Voters today I'm sure just want to see things getting better; they're not expecting miracles, like an overnight recovery. Obama warned Ohio today that it wouldn't be quick and it wouldn't be easy and the irony is, probably that's exactly what they wanted to hear. 

[photo by David Planchet]


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