The Stinginess Vote

During a recent presentation by Ruy Teixeira, perhaps my favorite wonk, Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute made a really fascinating observation, which I’m hoping she’ll write about. In a nutshell, she noted that during economic downturns, voters turn against expanding government. We’ve seen that the public is trending in a leftward direction on a number of ideological questions. In 2007, Pew found that more Americans support generous social programs than in the past. But will that last if the downturn deepens?

Consider 1992, when Bill Clinton won 43 percent of the vote. Ross Perot, who won 19 percent, was essentially advocating a strange brew of protectionism and economic austerity — not generous new social programs. George H.W. Bush practically begged for forgiveness for having raised taxes, and he wasn’t promising any sweeping new programs either. The candidate who promised hope and change, and a major expansion of social programs, didn’t do all that well.

This came to mind as I read Matt Yglesias’s post on the supposed similarities between Bush and McCain. Matt acknowledged that one difference really did stand out.

By contrast, McCain’s domestic passion is anti-pork crusading, something he’s stuck with through thick and thin and that Bush has never cared about at all.

Could it be that this will prove more advantageous than we presently believe?

I’m not sure — the demographic composition of the electorate has changed considerably over the last sixteen years, which is to say that flinty New Englanders are not nearly as influential as they were back then.