The centrist Democratic group Third Way has released an analysis of the 2004 exit polls showing, quite starkly, that Democrats lost the middle class. The tipping point for white voters, the spot where they began voting for Republicans rather than Democrats, was $23,700, not that far above party level. More damaging, the same dynamic was on exhibit with Hispanic voters, who gave us a 21-point margin when their incomes were under $30,000, but only a 10-point win when they made between $30,000 and $75,000.
To some degree, this can all be explained away as priorities. If you're making under $30,000, economic security is likely to be your foremost concern, easily outweighing wars a world away and terrorist threats that have long since become routine. Jack up the incomes and financial stability, though, and more mental space is freed to fret over terrorism, orange alerts, and gay couples.
All this, I think, shows why a simple return to populism isn't going to do the trick, at least not in any long-term way. A more forthright approach to the class war -- and there is a class war, no matter what Bob Novak says -- will help the party, but only by reassuring voters that we're as eager to destroy the jihadists as we are to reign in the corporations will we regain power. Well, at least that's how we'll regain power if Bush doesn't destroy this country's finances, if the risky mortgages home buyers are using doesn't destroy the country's savings, and the whole place doesn't fall into a severe recession. Because if that happens, then then the under $23,000 constituency will be huge, and the Democrats will clean up. I'd much prefer we go with the first strategy, but there are those times when it seems like the second is being forced to manifest.