About Those “Liberal Elites”

At Ten Miles Square, Andrew Gelman has some news for Sarah Palin and other Republicans in the habit of using “elite” as a synonym for Democrats or godless liberals: it actually is not true, if that matters.

Within any education category, richer people vote more Republican. In contrast, the pattern of education and voting is nonlinear. High school graduates are more Republican than non-HS grads, but after that, the groups with more education tend to vote more Democratic. At the very highest education level tabulated in the survey, voters with post-graduate degrees lean toward the Democrats. Except for the rich post-graduates; they are split 50-50 between the parties.

What does this say about America’s elites? If you define elites as high-income non-Hispanic whites, the elites vote strongly Republican. If you define elites as college-educated high-income whites, they vote moderately Republican.

There is no plausible way based on these data in which elites can be considered a Democratic voting bloc. To create a group of strongly Democratic-leaning elite whites using these graphs, you would need to consider only postgraduates (no simple college grads included, even if they have achieved social and financial success), and you have to go down to the below-$75,000 level of family income, which hardly seems like the American elites to me.

The patterns are consistent for all three of the past presidential elections.

I suppose someone like Palin, if she were actually interested in empirical data as opposed to agitprop, might argue that “elites” are precisely those overeducated pointy-heads who don’t make much money because they work in made-up government jobs (some at those “government schools” that are indoctrinating young Americans in secular socialism) and don’t have the earning power of the salt-of-the-earth job-creators at the top of the income ladder.

But any way you slice it, the word “elite” as used by conservatives these days has at best a casual connection to the dictionary meanings of the word. It was, of course, derived from the French language, so maybe that’s the problem!

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.