Morphing Zombies

One of the commenters on John Sides’s “Zombie Politics” post notes that Jonathan Chait has a new piece applauding George Packer, doubting Sides (and Bartels), then transitioning to a discussion of Packer and others discussing Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart. Chait’s title: “Why Are Poor Whites Conservative? And Poor?”

Just for the record, they’re not (conservative, that is). The figures John posted yesterday aren’t really relevant for assessing Chait’s premise, since people without college degrees are (mostly) not “poor” and voting Republican is not the same thing as being “conservative.” Here’s a more relevant figure, from my book Unequal Democracy, comparing the economic policy views of  whites in the bottom and top thirds of the income distribution from 1972 through 2004.

Poor whites are noticeably more liberal than affluent whites on this issue. They don’t seem to have become any less liberal over three decades, either relatively or absolutely. Nor is the substance of the views they are expressing “conservative” in any absolute sense: the zero point in this figure reflects a position halfway between options labeled “the government should just let each person get ahead on his own” and “the government in Washington should see to it that every person has a job and a good standard of living.”

I take John’s point that some wrong ideas probably can’t be killed; but just in case, I’m grateful to the commenter who helpfully pointed out that one burns zombies (and stabs vampires).

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

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Larry Bartels

Larry Bartels is a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University.