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What's The Matter With The Upper West Side?

In an amusing inversion of Thomas Frank's book, Walter Shapiro takes to The Atlantic Monthly to ask what's the matter with Central Park West? How come all these rich guys are ignoring their economic self-interest and voting Democratic out of misguided preoccupation with moral values? It's a good point -- values voting is everywhere. I was checking out this map of upper Manhattan campaign contributions and was pretty amused to see that neighborhood stereotypes holding that the Upper West Side is far more leftwing than the Upper East Side appears to have actualy, non-anecdotal evidentiary support. Lower Manhattan, where I was raised, is a veritable sea of blue, as anticipated, with the exception of a few red spots near Wall Street. My apartment, I'm proud to note, offered zero percent of its contributions to Bush.

February 1, 2005 | Permalink


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» East v. West from Upper East Sider
Matthew Yglesias found a really interesting map showing the disparity between Upper East Side and Upper West Side campaign donation patterns in the 2004 election cycle. [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 2, 2005 12:01:28 PM


That is of course unless rich people decide to look into the somewhat near future and realize that the Bushist economic policies aren't necessarily the best thing for the country and for their own wealth (except the owners of a couple corporations alreay tied into the beast).

Posted by: zoidberg | Feb 1, 2005 2:05:45 PM

As my co-blogger Scott Lemieux is forever pointing out, this demonstrates the potential danger of the rightward shift on cultural issues some of our compatriots have been promoting.

Posted by: djw | Feb 1, 2005 2:10:13 PM

Voting has a very, very low cost so people are free to vote based on things other than short-term rationality, greed, and self-interest. If your vote costs nothing, then you can spend it as frivolously as you like.

Posted by: Cole | Feb 1, 2005 2:10:32 PM

I understand you are making a joke, but I'd like to be put to rest the claim that: rich guys are ignoring their economic self-interest and voting Democratic
The economic self-interest of the rich guy is best served by long term growth and solid basic economic fundamentals. In the short term, the rich guy may get a shot in the arm from an unsustainable economic policy, but his economic self-interest might have a different time scale.

A version of the same argument is that of abortion: anti-abortion who vote Democratic would get more results in terms of reducing the total numbers. Is it against their moral interest thus to vote Democratic?

Posted by: cedichou | Feb 1, 2005 2:18:11 PM

Capitalists would argue that pure free markets are in the long-term best interests of everyone in society. You might disagree with that statement, but it's at least as well supported as the argument that Democratic economic policies are in the long-term best interests of the wealthy.

The point still stands that "What's the Matter With the Upper West Side?" is every bit as valid a question as "What's the Matter With Kansas?" They're both stupid questions. Values differ. Economic ideologies differ. It's outrageous to think that you know someone's interests better than they do and that there must be something wrong with them if they don't act according to their interests as you perceive them.

Posted by: Xavier | Feb 1, 2005 2:40:17 PM

One argument would be: the Republicans represent the economic interests of the rich and educated, the Democrats represent their libertarian leanings in social policy with only the most tepid of redistributionalist goals (a little more tax on those earning $200,000 or more!).

So it's fine for the wealthy to vote Republican or Democrat (or better, vote Republican, and get your libertarian social policy from the courts, a win-win scenario). But, given the choice between Clinton and Bush, it's not clear why the poor should vote at all.

Posted by: Otto | Feb 1, 2005 2:45:24 PM

Xavier nails it: it is in the economic interests of the lower and middle class to have as dynamic an economy as possible; hence voting for Republicans and against statist Democrats is truly in their economic interest.

Anyway, since this will not be solved here, I'll just add that there are NINE people listed as having given to Bush/GOP on that Fundrace.org page to which he links. It seems to me that Matthew lived in a vertiable sea of RED compared to my page... which lists only TWO Bush/GOP givers! Matthew's neighborhood is 4.5x as Republican as mine - hilarious!

Posted by: Al | Feb 1, 2005 2:51:37 PM

I'm pretty sure I made out on the tax cuts, though I haven't checked carefully. And low mortgage interest has been a huge silver lining in an otherwise mixed economic picture.

But the main thing is I literally have trouble sleeping at night sometimes thinking of that f---wad in the White House. That's where my self-interest begins and ends. I think I would have done reasonably well moneywise under any president, and I'm not going to quibble about details.

To be fair, I will say that the Bush presidency gives me a better understanding of how GOP partisans could hate a president like Bill Clinton so much when he seemed to be bending over backwards in an attempt to make friends with them.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Feb 1, 2005 2:54:31 PM

Otto: You misunderstand the nature of winner-take-all elections. Both parties will converge on the opinion of the median voter because, by moving slightly closer to the center, a party can acquire new voters without substantial risk of losing anyone on the fringe. That means that there isn't likely to be substantial differentiation between the main party candidates on any issue. That does not, however, mean that the positions of the candidates are not responsive to opinions of voters. That's why we usually don't see a huge difference between the party on economic issues. Both parties more or less converge on the optimal political strategy.

The big problem with your argument is that we don't see a whole lot of variation on social issues either. Kerry may have villified Bush's social agenda, but his wasn't all that different. He didn't support gay marriage. He didn't support withdrawal from Iraq (and couldn't even consistently say that it was wrong to invade in the first place). Their positions on the drug war were basically indistinguishable. They both claimed to have strong personal religious convictions (Christian, of course).

You're never going to see much differentiation between main party candidates, but that doesn't mean that both parties represent the interests of the same small subset of the voting population.

Posted by: Xavier | Feb 1, 2005 2:59:22 PM

fundrace.org is very cool, by the way. I discovered that my neighbor with the Bush/Cheney bumper stickers (rare in South Bay) is also a donor, and the only donor to either candidate or party on my street.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Feb 1, 2005 3:02:04 PM

Al and Xavier are of the basic misunderstanding that the Bushist proto-capitalist anarchy produces gains for anyone not connected to the GOP machine: rich or poor. The "statist" policies of the last 75 years were the only reason that there was a middle class at all, and its definitely the only way to secure any kind of security for lower classes in the future. That stable society is of course in everyone's interest.

The major difference between Kansas thesis and UWS is that you can be rich and still know that redistribution is the only way societies can flourish - so when richer voters agree with that and act to redistribute, it fits in with a world view. When Kansan voters do that, and the wealth of the lower class is "redistributed" to the gated communities and Bushocrats, it goes against the entire idea and makes the spiral even worse.

Posted by: Zoidberg | Feb 1, 2005 3:30:53 PM

Well, parties respond to both voters and their other supporters. If you need a lot of money to run in an election, then the balance between voter preferences and some combination of special interests and the rich/educated will increasingly favour the latter. There's certainly room for an election platform that is pro-redistribution (esp on universal healthcare) and anti-gay marriage - in fact its probably a very consistently winning ticket. But the bias towards getting money from the rich (who very much do NOT share these preferences) prevents either party taking up this banner.

Posted by: Otto | Feb 1, 2005 3:34:03 PM

Contrary to what Al said, the lower class does not vote for Republicans. A surprising number do, and usually it is because of non-econmic cultural wedge issues.

Posted by: John Emerson | Feb 1, 2005 4:12:48 PM

John, it's almost like you even read Thomas Frank's book!

Posted by: Al | Feb 1, 2005 4:15:35 PM

John Emerson got it: rich people usually DO vote Republican, and poor people usually DO vote Democratic, the relationship is, from the data I've seen, pretty direct. It's the exceptions, like Manhattanites and working class Kansans, that surprise us, so we end up using them as synecdoches for their entire economic classes, then stupidly wondering, "why do poor people vote Republican and rich people vote Democratic?"

Also, I think there's a misconception that fundamentalists are usually poor (tarpaper shacks of inbred families, Deliverance scenes, blah blah blah). From what I've seen, this isn't true. Christian Fundamentalists are generally upper-middle class, like atheists and agnostics (again, there are always exceptions). Poorer people tend to be more moderate Christians. (Remember how the 9/11 hijackers were mostly of the upper classes of their own countries? Note: I don't think Christian fundamentalists, in their present state, are anywhere near as bad as the Islamic fundamentalists who blew up thousands of innocent people, but I do think there's a parallel here, in how many secularists assume that religiosity is a sign of poverty, when the most dogmatic and literal religiosity is found among the comparatively well-to-do. Also note that in India, the BJP has fused a brand of Hindu religiosity with bourgeois sensibilities, and its main support comes from the comparatively prosperous.)

Posted by: Julian Elson | Feb 1, 2005 4:29:22 PM

Boy, I'm getting tired of people misrepresenting Franks.

Franks isn't saying it's wrong to vote your morals. He's saying that in the case of Kansans, voting their morals is futile, for two reasons:

1. They're voting for Republicans, who promise to clean up our culture. But the Republican party is actually run by Wall Street guys who make a lot of money on our decadent materialist culture. They have no interest in cleaning up our culture.

2. The first amendment is designed so that government cannot make ham-handed attempts to reengineer our culture. Even if the Republican party wanted to restore the era of Leave-it-to-Beaver, they couldn't do so if they tried.

There's a huge difference between a wealthy Manhattanite who "votes his morals" and a Kansan who "votes his morals." The Manhattanite's morals consist of taking care of the poor, so he votes for a Democrat who genuinely wants to take care of the poor and is genuinely capable of doing so. The Kansan's morals consist of cleaning up our culture, so he votes for a Republican who doesn't really want to clean up culture, and he couldn't do it if he tried anyhow. That's a big difference.

Of course, it follows that if the Kansans were smart, they'd vote their economic interests. At least that way, they'd get something. Voting for Republicans, they get nothing - not morals, not economics, nothing.

Posted by: Josh Yelon | Feb 1, 2005 4:31:24 PM

"The Manhattanite's morals consist of taking care of the poor"

Maybe the Manhattanite's morals consist of forcing the Kansan to take his libertarian social ideals, and defending the interpretations of the First Amendment and other parts of the constitution which prevent the Kansan from getting what they want.

"Rich people usually DO vote Republican"

Really? IIRC it's relatively even in the over $200,000 bracket. Can you provide a reference?

Posted by: Otto | Feb 1, 2005 4:36:56 PM

There are so many obvious rejoinders, and so little time, so here's a few:

1. One problem with Dems is that they do better with the bourgeoise than with the "lumpenbourgeoise," i.e., no grad degree wealthy people. These voters tend to have linear perceptions of economic self-interest and buy into the most simplistic vein of conservative econ.

2. The role of economic policy that is NOT directly fiscal is often left out of these discussions -- well-educated people care about issues like the environment and consumer regulation that are both (a) complicated and (b) froma certain POV, "luxury items." And Manhattan wealthy are very much better informed about these issues than, say, the Kansas City suburban rich of whom Frank writes.

3. The "Concord Coalition" types = are pretty much only well-educated people (even though I think there econ is itself simplistic), and, again, more in NYC than Middle America, even given constant levels of income.

Posted by: Jeff | Feb 1, 2005 4:50:30 PM

Otto--that's just completely wrong. People making 200K+ went overwhelmingly for Bush:


As you can see, Democratic vote goes down is the income bracket goes up. Of course, more people vote against their "class interests" (although I join with Al and Xavier in believing that it's more complucated) than one would expect, but economic elites are overwhelmingly Republican, of course.

Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Feb 1, 2005 4:55:39 PM

Correct, Scott. Hoever, there is ALSO this tidbit:

"While the haves will surely give Bush a majority of their votes this fall, the have-mores might not. In September, the research firm Prince & Associates surveyed 400 people worth more than $1 million for Elite Traveler magazine. (Note to self: Try to get gig writing for this magazine.) The rich folk favored Bush by a 58-42 margin. Not too surprising. But when you break out the numbers, they tell a different story. The petit bourgeoisie millionaires were passionately for Bush: Those worth between $1 million and $10 million favored Bush by a 63-37 margin. But the haute millionaires, those worth more than $10 million, favored Kerry 59-41."


Posted by: Al | Feb 1, 2005 5:04:46 PM

what's the matter with Central Park West?

I thought Central Park West was great, a lot better than Melrose Place. Mädchen Amick is such a hottie! I have no idea why the ratings sucked so badly.

Posted by: fling93 | Feb 1, 2005 5:07:43 PM

There's a huge difference between a wealthy Manhattanite who "votes his morals" and a Kansan who "votes his morals." The Manhattanite's morals consist of taking care of the poor ...

But then, Josh Yelon, Manhattanites' voting their morals is futile too! Because it is overwhelmingly obvious that it the REPUBLICANS who truly care about helping the poor. After all, Democrats wanted to keep the poor shackled to a welfare system that did everything it could to reinforce the cycle of poverty. Republicans, on the other hand, were the driving force behind a welfare reform program that has dramatically reduced the number of people on welfare. So it is clear that, while the Democrats profess to care about the poor, in reality they are controlled by special interest groups that do not care about the poor at all. Therefore, rich Manhattanites who care for the poor would be better off voting for Republicans, but, unfortunately, are continually duped into voting Democrat.

Posted by: Al | Feb 1, 2005 5:10:38 PM

"the Manhattanite's morals consist of forcing the Kansan to take his libertarian social ideals..."

Here's a question for you: do you think the Republican party really could clean up our culture if it wanted to?

I think the answer is "no way." Even if you could stack the courts, you'd cause so much uproar among the red-state consumers of "Desperate Housewives," you'd cause such a furor among all the southern baptists who watch porn on the 'net, and you'd cause Fox to lose so much money, you'd cause riots in very same Kansas towns before you got past square one.

Desperate Housewives was produced by Fox, it's consumed in the red states, and the money goes to wall-street Republicans. It's not the liberals who created this stuff. You can't get rid of it, not because some judge stands in your way, but because the social pressure to keep it is coming from your own party.

That's why the Republican promise to clean up the culture is so much hot air. You don't *want* to clean up the culture, and most of you know it.

Posted by: Josh Yelon | Feb 1, 2005 5:16:06 PM

"it is overwhelmingly obvious that it the REPUBLICANS who truly care about helping the poor,"

Is that why the number of poor is rising so fast? Because you love taking care of them so much, you just gotta have more of them?

Posted by: Josh Yelon | Feb 1, 2005 5:18:44 PM

Aw, crap. It's not "desperate housewives" that's on Fox. It's "simple life." I can't keep track of these sleaze-shows. Stick my foot in my mouth.

Posted by: Josh Yelon | Feb 1, 2005 5:25:28 PM

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