American politics is not the rich versus the poor

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Michael Barone,Minimum Wage,Income Inequality,Hispanics

I have long thought that, as I wrote in my 1990 book Our Country: The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan, “in the United States politics more often divides Americans along cultural than along economic lines.” Strong evidence that this conclusion is true today comes from Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz in Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball blog.

Abramowitz looks at data from the 4,000 interviews in the 2012 American National Election Survey showing voting by whites, blacks and Hispanics of various income levels. Bottom line: There’s not much difference in voting behavior or attitudes highly correlated with it among whites and blacks.

A possible exception: High-income Hispanics (over $100,000) plus $50,000-to-$75,000-income Hispanics are more Republican than Hispanics in other income categories. But, as Abramowitz notes, “it is very likely that wealthy Hispanics differed in other ways from low-income Hispanics, such as country of origin and length of time in the United States, and that these other differences might have contributed to their greater inclination to vote for the Republican presidential candidate.”

Translation: Affluent Cuban-Americans are likely to be more Republican than more recently arrived low-skill Mexican-Americans, as a comparison of the exit polls from Florida and California strongly suggest.

Abramowitz's conclusion: “growing income inequality cannot, as some have argued, explain growing partisan polarization in the American electorate. Americans today are more deeply divided along party lines than at any time in recent history, but those divisions have little to do with social class.” All of which casts doubt on the Obama Democrats' strategy of campaigning for a higher minimum wage as a means of redressing income inequality. Even more so, since raising the minimum wage won't put much of a dent in income inequality, and because about half the states have minimum wages higher than the federal level and will be affected minimally or not at all by an increase in the federal minimum.

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