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Why We Can't Let the GOP Pretend to Be the Party of the Middle Class

February 16, 2015 in Blogs

By Sean McElwee, Salon

On a number of economic indicators, the country fares far better when a Democrat is in office.

In the run-up to the 2016 election, Republicans are trying to position themselves as the party of the middle-class. In a recent essay, Thomas Edsall 

In another recent study, Alan Blinder and Mark Watson find that on a number of economic indicators, the country fares far better when a Democrat is in office. GDP growth is 1.8 point higher under a Democratic presidency, unemployment is lower, corporate profits are higher, the S&P grows faster and wages grow faster. This difference is not found in other countries, suggesting that the particularly rabid nature of American conservatism may be an important factor. It could also be that the effect is purely luck (although there is evidence to suggest that left-wing governments can facilitate growth). But the fact that the economy grows faster under Democrats is not enough to explain why the middle-class fares better. As the chart below shows, much of the distribution leg-work occurs after taxes and transfers. This isn’t to say Democrats don’t shape the pre-tax distribution (they do), but rather that simple differences in market distributions of income can’t explain the difference.

As John B. Judis argued — contrary to his seminal proposition of an “Emerging Democratic Majority”  — the future now belongs to the Republican party. It’s increasingly likely that Democrats will continue to have a slight advantage in the electoral college, but struggle elsewhere, for reasons I’ve previously discussed. So, while Judis’ thesis that middle-class whites are dramatically shifting right is contestable, he raises an important point: Middle-class Americans like services but dislike taxes, and Democrats currently appear to be the party of taxes. And so, the struggle for Democrats is what Suzanne Mettler refers to as the “submerged state.” That is, the way the government actually benefits the middle class often goes unseen, while taxes, particularly the income tax, are very obvious. Mettler notes that our federal tax code is full of handouts like …read more


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