This explanation fits into a long tradition of conservative skepticism about democracy. The underlying idea is that the more people rely on the federal government, the more they will support government activism and the party that favors it. Whatever one thinks of that activism, it’s a plausible idea — just as it’s plausible, though Republicans never say it, that defense spending might promote an unhealthy interest in the defense budget among the Americans who benefit directly from it. …

One major reason for the growth of the federal government in recent years has been that entitlement spending per beneficiary has increased, and so has the number of beneficiaries as people have retired. Yet senior citizens — who benefit from federal programs, on average, far more than younger people — have become more Republican over that same period. They actually voted for John McCain over Obama in 2008 by a slightly higher margin than they did for George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004. …

Conservatives have even less reason for worrying about people who don’t pay federal income taxes. A major reason that the number of those people has grown is that a Republican-controlled Congress created, and the Bush administration expanded, a tax credit for parents. If there is any evidence that in recent years middle-class parents have become more Democratic, relative to the general electorate, I haven’t seen it.