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Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Prospect's New Map  

According to Garance Franke-Ruta's Remapping the Culture Debate (hat tip Ross Douthat at American Scene), some would-be Democratic strategists appear to be catching on to the notion that voters have a hierarchy of values.
[S]urveys repeatedly show that $50,000 seems to be a threshold income dividing the economically insecure from their more prosperous countrymen, and the average household income in America is now, despite years of stagnant wages, $56,644. People earning such wages are far from rich, but they are comfortable enough to look beyond their pocketbooks when they vote.
Well, yeah. Following Maslow, there's hierarchy of voter values, where one value becomes important when those below it on the scale are satisfied. Roughly,
  • Societal-Actualization
  • Status
  • Belonging/Cultural Values
  • Security
  • Survival
Notes (from the bottom up): Blacks continue to turn out for a Democratic party that disregards their values because they, like Jim Crow white Southerners, are convinced their racial survival demands it.
Security concerns can be economic, physical, military, or legal; antipoverty, law and order, national security, and abortion-rights voters fall here on the scale.
Cultural values can cut both ways, depending on whether you care about belonging to a red- or blue-state peer group, but the majority is red, and growing.
And societal-actualization, the shared value of the upper-class progressive and the missionary neo-con, only becomes important once personal status needs are met – which explains Hollywood and the trust-fund Left.

Now, this sounds like the beginning of understanding among Progressives, but there's a long way yet to travel. The surest indication is that The Prospect's New Map says at least as much about the ideology of the mapmakers as it does about the territory. Read this description of a values matrix, and carefully consider the choice of axis-labels:
The quadrants represent different worldviews. On the top lies authority, an orientation that values traditional family, religiosity, emotional control, and obedience. On the bottom, the individuality orientation encompasses risk-taking, “anomie-aimlessness,” and the acceptance of flexible families and personal choice. On the right side of the scale are values that celebrate fulfillment, such as civic engagement, ecological concern, and empathy. On the left, there’s a cluster of values representing the sense that life is a struggle for survival: acceptance of violence, a conviction that people get what they deserve in life, and civic apathy. These quadrants are not random: Shellenberger and Nordaus developed them based on an assessment of how likely it was that holders of certain values also held other values, or “self-clustered.”
No, not random at all. The top-down vs bottom-up implications of what could less (mis)leadingly be called the Social/Individual or Authority/Autonomy axis, and the implicit developmental time-line from Survival to Fulfullment along what looks rather like values from Michael Barone's Hard America to Soft America or across the Atlantic gulf between American Mars and European Venus, are telling indeed. The question is, how much do they have to do with the territory?

The lesson drawn from the success of Tim Kaine in Virginia seems to be that a pre-emptive assertion of moral values can “inoculate” a candidate against the usual Republican attacks, which risks mistaking tactics for substance. If this spin catches on, the Democrats may well go chasing after values voters, continuing to insist that progressives and the beleaguered middle class actually share common values, if only they were explained better (or slower), and ignore the hard economic issues.
For Democratic strategists, [these are] tough questions: What does it mean to be the party of the working class in an information-era economy where only eight percent of the private sector is in unions and 43 percent of the population work in office jobs? Who is still “working class” in a nation that has moved from having a labor force where half hadn’t even finished high school in 1960 to one, in 2003, where only 10 percent of workers lacked a diploma or GED and close to 60 percent had at least some college education? And what can be expected from an electorate where, as in 2004, more voters had incomes greater than $100,000 than less than $15,000? Most importantly: How does the Democratic Party, whose most essential economic ideas were forged in the crucibles of the worst of times, develop an agenda for a post-scarcity society?

Liberal labor economist Stephen Rose ... question[s] the truth of the Democratic argument that the party represents the needs of the middle and working classes. “We need to consider the alternative that the majority of people do not have basic economic interests to vote Democratic,” he wrote. (Emphasis in the original)
As I've said before, the first item on the Democratic party's agenda should be to update its bedrock economic policies from the very different world of the 1930's. Chasing after values voters may be seizing another opportunity to miss an opportunity.

posted by Kelly | 9:16 PM link
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