There's a bit of a buzz in the blogosphere about a New Republic Online article by Hamilton College professor Phillip Klinckner arguing that rich folks provided George W. Bush with his real margin of victory on November 2. Using the usual 2000 baseline, he shows that most of the religiously-motivated voters who went for Bush this time did so last time, while the GOP significantly improved its performance among top earners.
It's not terribly surprising, of course, that after throwing money at top earners for four straight years, Bush pried some of them away from Democrats. But there's actually a double-whammy going on here: Gore's strong performance among the same category of voters owed a lot to the fact that wealthy people, like everybody else--and despite the "confiscatory" tax rates of that time--did pretty damn well during the Clinton administration. It isn't terribly surprising that John Kerry did not benefit from that particular "right track" vote. As an editorial in Blueprint magazine pointed out way back in July of 2001:
"There's no doubt at all that Democrats in 2004 will suffer from the absence of the remarkable Clinton record of economic, social, and fiscal accomplishment -- the 900-pound gorilla at the kitchen table during the 2000 campaign. Without the ability to run as incumbents on that record -- whose power nearly lifted Al Gore to the presidency -- Democrats must aggressively and consistently promote a pro-growth, pro-opportunity agenda that unites the party base with swing voters. Or they must risk debilitating losses among the growing ranks of well-educated suburban voters who were trending heavily toward Democrats in the 1990s."
The evidence is mixed about John Kerry's success in advancing that kind of "pro-growth, pro-opportunity" message; he often did, but the campaign's obsession with job loss numbers and outsourcing may have narrowed it a bit too much for parts of the country (e.g., Florida and the Southwest, and even some parts of Ohio) that were doing relatively well. But in any event, the predictable losses among high earners make it that much more important that Democrats come to grips with the cultural and security issues--the non-economic "populist" issues, if you will--which kept so many downscale voters from supporting Democrats in both 2000 and 2004.