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The party for the rich

By Tim Montgomerie 
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I spotted this yesterday on the Washington Post's 'WonkBlog':

"Consider this poll question: “When you think of people who are Democrats, what type of person comes to mind?”  About 38 percent of respondents selected words like “working class,” “middle class,” and “common people” while only 1 percent selected words like “rich” or “wealthy.”  The opposite was true when asked about Republicans: 31 percent picked words like “wealthy” and “business executive” while only 6 percent chose “working class” and its kindred.

Or consider a second series of poll questions.  When asked which party would be “better for” different groups, 51 percent said that Democrats were better for the poor versus 22 percent who said that of Republicans (the rest said that the parties were about the same or that they were not sure).  And 39 percent said that Democrats were better for the middle class versus 31 percent who said that of Republicans.  By contrast, most (54 percent) said that the Republicans were better for Wall Street; only 13 percent said this of Democrats."

And here's the killer (my emphasis): 

"But here is the problem for Republicans.  The first poll was from 1953.  The second was from May 2012.  Across almost 60 years of political history, Americans perceived the two major parties in remarkably similar ways."

I suspect similar questions across a similar time period would produce similar results in Britain. The mistake, I think, would be to assume that the 'party of the rich' problem didn't therefore matter because it hasn't stopped us winning in the past. Thinking only of the British context for the moment I would argue that, in the second half of the last century, other factors - including the unacceptably socialist, inflationary and union-centred policies of the Benn/ Foot Labour party and of their nuclear unilateralism in the face of the communist threat - meant Conservatives could get away, to some extent, with being the party of the well-off. Today the Cold War has gone and the Left has modernised. If Republicans are to start winning the White House again and if the Tories are to start winning parliamentary majorities again we need to address a brand problem that we've neglected for many decades.

These are questions examined over at The Deep End today: "Conservatives can win floating voters and core voters, but not by sucking up to the rich".


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