Green Room

Obama’s class warfare sideshow

posted at 1:59 pm on September 21, 2011 by

The funniest part of Pres. Obama’s class warfare sideshow may be pundits like Andrew Sullivan and Greg Sargent, who seem to think that proposed tax hikes on “the rich” are about anything other than propping up Obama’s sagging support with progressives. They trot out a bunch of polls showing such tax hikes are broadly popular, and conclude Obama’s tax hike proposals will help him beyond his dwindling base.

Sullivan and Sargent seem to have never heard of the concept of intensity. Smarter lefties, like Kevin Drum, get that these polls do not tell the whole story:

Unfortunately, as with nearly all polls, these don’t measure intensity of feeling. And I don’t think anyone will be surprised if I suggest that the one-third of Americans opposed to tax increases feels really strongly about it while the two-thirds who support them don’t really care all that much. They’re certainly nowhere near ready to kick people out of office if they decline to vote for a tax increase.

This is, of course, the story of politics everywhere. A motivated minority trumps an apathetic majority every time. They always have and they always will.

Non-wingnutty political scientist Larry Bartels broke down the math on fighting the extension of the Bush tax cuts:

[T]he sizable minority of people who want the tax cuts for affluent taxpayers renewed seem to attach much more weight to this issue than the slim majority who want them to expire. In a statistical analysis taking separate account of prospective voters’ broader partisan attachments, those who support President Obama’s position on the tax cuts are only 6% more likely than those who are unsure about the issue to say they will vote for a Democratic House candidate. Even those who want to let all the tax cuts expire are only 9% more likely to vote Democratic. By comparison, those who want to keep the tax cuts for affluent taxpayers in place are 22% more likely to say they will vote for a Republican House candidate.

An even more lopsided difference appears in the impact of tax cut preferences on presidential approval. People who support President Obama’s position on this issue are only slightly more approving of his overall performance than those who are unsure, while those who want to renew all the tax cuts are moved about five times as far toward disapproving. Among political independents, a whopping 76% of those who want continued tax cuts for the rich say they strongly disapprove of the president’s performance; only 27% of those who support his proposal for selective extension of the tax cuts are equally disenchanted.


These results suggest that candidate Obama’s skillful-looking proposal to allow the tax cuts to expire only for the richest 2% of taxpayers has turned out to be very costly for President Obama and his party, despite its overall popularity.

Thus, the only people shocked when Obama and the lame duck Democratic Congress decided to take credit for extending the Bush tax cuts after the 2010 midterms were people like Sargent and Sullivan. You would think people would have learned from past examples where intensity was the real story (e.g., abortion, second amendment), but apparently hopeandchange springs eternal for some.

Team Obama has rolled out the class warfare sideshow now for two reasons. First, as noted, they need to pump up the left to arrest the president’s steadily declining approval ratings. They led with class warfare because they will want to ease off tax hiking as the campaign heats up and pivot to Mediscare, an issue with more intensity and saliency for people who vote and might otherwise vote Republican (even here, there are doubts about Mediscare working in the current economic climate). Second, any day the establishment media wastes talking about fiscal minutiae like “the Buffett rule” is a day Team Obama is not forced to address chronic high unemployment, job-killing regulations, nascent scandals, and so on.

Recently in the Green Room: