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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Housing Collapse and Upscale Voters

Well, wonders never cease: in the space of just one week, there are two Michael Barone columns that transcend GOP agitprop and add real value to our understanding of the November 4 elections. The second, published by US News today, examines why Barack Obama appears to have a robust lead in PA despite signs of weakness in the Northeast and Southwest quadrants of the state.
The simple answer is that Obama’s holding an enormous lead in Southeast PA, where Gore and Kerry’s Philadelphia leads were partially offset by GOP voters in the Philly suburbs. And Obama’s strength in those suburbs, suggests Barone, is probably a function of collapsing home prices, which disproportionately affect upscale voters:

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.

This is the same phenomenon that afflicted George H.W. Bush in certain suburban areas (particularly California and New England) in 1992. It’s a lot more pervasive now than then.
We’ve already known for a while that Democratic gains this year appear likely to rest on winning upscale, college-educated voters, while reducing losses among non-college educated white voters. Barone offers one reason why that is happening.
To be clear, Barone partially ruins his column by concluding with a lot of deeply annoying and anachronistic comparisons of a future Obama administration to the disastrous John Lindsay tenure as mayor of New York. But as long as he limits himself to staring at numbers, he’s still occasionally worth reading.

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