Republicans are more likely to favor a government focused on deficit reduction, a strong military, and moral issues; Democrats want to protect the environment, bolster education, and help the poor. The agenda more favored by Republicans seems to control the debate in Washington, probably not coincidentally because wealthy Americans are promoting it.
Pew Research released its annual look at America's political priorities Monday. For the first time since President Obama took office, addressing the budget deficit has declined in importance, largely because Democrats don't rank it as high. (Perhaps in part because the deficit has regularly declined since 2009.) What's most interesting is Pew's look at how the priorities of Republicans and Democrats differ. We've created the table below, which ranks issues from those more important to Republicans to those more important to Democrats (the "Diff" column is the percentage-point difference between the parties). It also compares the responses of independents to the other two parties. ("D: 6," for instance, means that independents are six percentage points more likely to agree with Democrats than Republicans on the issue.)
There are more issues on which independents are more likely to agree with Democrats than Republicans, although the budget deficit isn't one of them.
But look at the issues more likely to be championed by Republicans than Democrats. Combatting illegal immigration, bolstering Social Security, strengthening the military, and, of course, the deficit. The deficit is being reduced — to the chagrin of economists who argue that the deficit can grow in a slow economy — thanks to the relentless focus on the issue.
Then compare the table above to the one at right. That's from an academic paper released last March that's gaining traction today thanks to The Washington Post. Written by a team at Northwestern University, the survey analyzes how the political priorities of wealthy Americans differ from those of the non-wealthy. The Post highlighted the differences on economic and educational issues — the non-rich are way more likely to want a minimum wage increase, government employment, and nationalized health insurance, struggles all. But see how the priorities of the wealthy align with the priorities of the Republican contingent in that Pew poll, including on addressing the deficit. Unsurprisingly: "about twice as many of our [wealthy] respondents considered themselves Republicans (58 percent) as considered themselves Democrats (27 percent)," the study's authors note.
The rich are also much more likely to be engaged in the grunt work of politics.
Ninety-nine percent of the wealthy people surveyed voted in 2008. Two-thirds gave money. Forty percent had contacted their senators; over a third had contacted their House member. Those are stunning numbers, ones that the non-rich can't match. Again, this is why rich people give money to campaigns — so that those phone calls to the senators will be returned, even if there's no direct quid pro quo.
During his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama is expected to address income inequality among Americans. Obama may be convinced that poverty is an important issue to tackle, but only a third of Republicans do. And it certainly isn't something the wealthy champion. At least one wealthy Californian sees the campaign as equivalent to Nazism. No wonder Obama wants to sidestep Congress.