clock menu more-arrow no yes

A new survey shows how economic policy divides the GOP and unites Democrats

Lower-income Republicans are decidedly more moderate on economics.

Donald Trump Holds “MAGA” Rally In Central Pennsylvania Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Rank-and-file Democrats of all income levels are largely united around big economic policy themes, a new study shows. The Republican Party, by contrast, features a significant internal division that basically tracks income lines, with lower-income Republicans being much more moderate on a range of economics-related issues.

The study, released Tuesday by the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group, was authored by Lee Drutman, Vanessa Williamson, and Felicia Wong.

They gauged support for a few different progressive economic policy ideas and then compared the views of low-income voters (with less than $40,000 per year in household income) to more comfortable ones (with more than $80,000 per year in household income). For Democrats, the more affluent voters were generally more left-wing — probably because they are better-educated and thus generally more ideological — but the difference is small.

For Republicans, by contrast, there’s a huge fall-off in support as you go up the income ladder.

The authors created a simplified chart of their findings:

Voter Study Group

They also did a scatter plot where they combined answers to a whole bunch of economic policy questions to place everyone on a left-right economic policy index. They then charted each respondent against their income, separated out by party.

It shows that Democrats are pretty consistently progressive at all income levels. But Republicans show huge variation, with low-income rank-and-file GOP voters being pretty moderate and high-income ones being very conservative.

Voter Study Group

Income does make a difference for Democrats, with opinion getting more consistently liberal as income rises until you get into the six-figure range, when it starts getting more conservative again.

But the differences are pretty modest. And, importantly, there’s almost nobody in the bottom quartile of the ideological index on the Democratic side, and the entire bottom half is very sparsely populated.

Republicans are different. Most Republicans have conservative views on economics, but a very healthy minority have at least moderately progressive views. And there’s an enormous class skew to the distribution, with more upscale Republicans being dramatically more consistently conservative.

For the purposes of Democratic Party infighting, this suggests two things.

One is that Hillary Clinton’s strategy of downplaying specific policy issues in her ads as part of an effort to win over Trump-skeptical Republicans was likely a mistake. Plenty of Republicans agree with Democrats about at least some economic policy issues, so there’s no trade-off between talking about those issues and trying to persuade voters from across the other side of the aisle. At the same time, the economically heterodox Republicans don’t look like a secret constituency for socialism — they’re to the left of GOP elites on economic policy but still pretty moderate, all things considered.

The other is that while the phrase “identity politics” isn’t normally used this way, it’s a powerful politics of cultural identity that keeps a diffuse Republican Party coalition together. Alignment with cultural conservatism is near universal among Republicans, and it keeps the party together even as its members have a lot of disagreements about specific economic policy issues.

Sign up for the newsletter The Weeds

Understand how policy impacts people. Delivered Fridays.