Monday, September 24, 2012

Will the real party of the rich please stand up?

The release of more of Mitt Romney’s tax returns on his campaign website recently is sure to spark a new discussion on wealth and politics. A letter from Romney’s accountants notes that the Romneys paid an average federal tax rate of 20.2 percent between 1990 and 2009. In 2011, the Romney’s paid an effective rate of 14.1 percent on a taxable income of $13.7 million. Romney’s income was mostly from investment returns which had already been taxed as the corporate income. The U.S. has the world’s highest tax rate on corporate income.

Democrats have long accused the Republicans of being the party of the rich and have attacked Romney’s nomination on the grounds that he would cut taxes on the wealthy and raise them on everyone else. In reality, both Romney and President Obama are millionaires, as are almost half of the members of Congress.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics 47 percent of congressional representatives are millionaires. In the current term, Republicans have 110 millionaires in the House of Representatives compared with 73 Democrats. In the Senate, Democratic millionaires outnumber Republicans 37-30. These numbers are probably a reflection of the fact that the Republicans hold a majority in the House while Democrats control the Senate.

In Georgia, 11 Alive reports that three of the top four representatives are Republican. Rep. Tom Price (R-6) is the wealthiest, followed by Senator Johnny Isakson and Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-11). At fourth is the wealthiest Georgia Democrat, Rep. John Barrow (D-12). Since 2010, Republicans hold eight of Georgia’s 13 House seats and both Senate seats.

For the poorest Georgia representatives, the reverse is true. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-3) is the poorest Republican. Below him are Democrats John Lewis (D-5), Hank Johnson (D-4) and Sanford Bishop (D-2). Interestingly, 11 Alive notes that Johnson has a net worth of zero and Bishop has an estimated net worth of negative $159,496. Bishop’s debt stems from legal bills from a GBI investigation into possible nepotism according to a report from Macon’s WMAZ. Bishop was cleared of wrongdoing.

CNN exit polls from 2008 show that it was Barack Obama who won the millionaire vote that year. Obama won the majority of voters who earn more than $200,000 by a margin of 52-46 percent. Obama also won majorities of voters who earn less than $50,000. John McCain won most of the middle class vote however.

According to CNN’s polling from 2004, George W. Bush handily won both the middle and upper class vote. John Kerry only prevailed with voters who earned less than $50,000. Polling Report shows similar results from 2000. Al Gore won the lower income vote while upper and middle class voters went for Bush.

In general, wealthy voters seem to alternate between the Republicans and Democrats while the Democrats always win lower income voters and the Republicans win the middle class. The last time that a Democrat won the middle class was in 1996 according to CNN when Ross Perot acted as a spoiler and stripped votes away from Republican Bob Dole. The wealthy voted for Dole that year.

A similar result was found in 1992 when Clinton faced George Herbert Walker Bush and Ross Perot. Bush and Clinton split the wealthy vote at 41 percent each according to CNN, but Clinton won both lower and middle class voters.

An interesting experiment is to correlate the ten wealthiest zip codes with political preference. Of these, six are represented by Democrats and four by Republicans. The wealthiest zip code in the country is represented in Congress by Henry Waxman, a California Democrat. The wealthiest Republican zip code is represented by Allen West of West Palm Beach, Fl. In one St. Louis, Mo. zip code ranked eighth on the list there are three representatives. Two Democrats represent half the zip code while one Republican represents the other half.

In contrast, when the poorest zip codes are examined, Democrats represent seven of the bottom ten. The poorest zip code in the country is in the Andover, Mass. district of Democrat Nikki Tsongas.

When the entire congressional district’s wealth is considered, the results are much the same. lists the top five congressional districts by income. Of these, the top three are Democratic. The fourth and fifth place districts are Republican.

With respect to the current presidential election, recent polling by Gallup supports the historical trend of low income voters supporting Democrats and Romney wins voters who earn between $48,000 and $99,000. Obama wins a slice of upper middle class voters from $90,000 to $120,000. Currently, Mitt Romney is the favorite of voters who earn more than $120,000 with an almost double digit lead.

In general it can be said that the Democrats have a lock on lower income voters while Republicans almost always win the middle class. Neither party is the exclusive province of wealthy voters, however. The wealthy vote for different goes for candidates of different parties and candidate of the wealthy does not always win. It can be said however, that most of the wealthiest congressional districts do vote Democrat.

Originally published on

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