High-Income Voters Favor the Democratic Nominee for First Time in Decades

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Hillary Clinton. Photo: Kris Connor/Getty Images

Donald Trump is making high-income voters Democrats again. A new poll from Bloomberg Politics shows Hillary Clinton besting Trump among voters with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more by a margin of 46 to 42 percent.

If Clinton maintains that advantage through Election Day, it would mark a new milestone on the Democratic Party’s long path to conquering the upscale electorate. In exit polls of 2012, Mitt Romney defeated Barack Obama among voters earning $100,000 and more by a ten-point margin. And no Democratic nominee has won that demographic since Bill Clinton’s reelection in 1996. Before that, the party hadn’t won the cohort for decades.

Bloomberg’s poll suggests that Clinton might not be winning such voters this year were it not for Trump’s idiosyncratic deficiencies: Asked which candidate would be better for their own investments, voters making more than six-figures favor Trump over Clinton by 45 to 36 percent.

That perception is in tension with the consensus of investment analysts, who see a Trump victory as one of the gravest threats facing global markets: When the world’s most powerful country elects a racist reality star with few policy convictions outside of general fondness for mercantilism … that’s likely to cause some “uncertainty.”

But Bloomberg’s poll provides ample evidence that the views of the affluent aren’t much more reality-based than those of the working stiffs: Upper-income voters said that Trump would be more likely to “rein in the power of Wall Street,” despite the fact that the mogul has promised to repeal all the post-2008 regulations on the financial industry, and then impose a moratorium on any additional ones. The poll also found these voters saying Trump knows more about what it takes to create jobs and has brought more “new ideas” to the 2016 debate.

Upscale voters’ generous view of the Republican nominee’s platform might indicate that, were he only to tamp down all his transparent misogyny and racism, he could win back the GOP’s traditional share of the voting bloc. And this may be true. But it’s important to note that Trump isn’t just a cause of upper-income voters’ defection for blue America — he is also an effect of that migration.

Last year, Thomas Edsall noted the slow-motion realignment of wealthy voters in a column for the New York Times:

In 1988, support for the Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis fell as income rose. Those making less than $12,500-a-year backed him 63-37, while those making more than $100,000 voted against him 67-33.

In 2012, by contrast, Obama won low-income voters, those making less than $30,000, decisively, 63-35, but also did far better than Dukakis among those making more than $100,000, winning 44 percent of their votes. Four years earlier, in 2008, Obama won among voters with the highest incomes, above $200,000, 52-46, and nearly tied among those making $100,000 to $200,000, 48-50.

As the economic elite have become more diverse and highly educated, they have also grown more liberal, particularly on social issues. The GOP’s reliance on religious conservatives and racially resentful whites has cost the party an increasingly large share of the ascendant professional class. The exodus of these voters from the Republican coalition is one of the many reasons that Trump was able to win this year’s primary: As the GOP professional class thins, the party’s cultural reactionaries become more influential.

Now, Trump appears to be accelerating this long-term realignment, sending a new wave of upscale Republican moderates to the Democrats, while bringing some of Team Blue’s remaining working-class whites into the GOP fold.

Should this voter swap hold beyond Election Day, the implications for our politics could be profound: On one side of the aisle, a Democratic Party whose activists are becoming evermore left-wing, even as its voting base is becoming evermore affluent; on the other, a Republican donor class increasingly at odds with a white-working-class base hostile to the Establishment’s immigration agenda and indifferent to its preferences on top marginal tax rates.

Those tensions should keep American politics weird, long past November.

Clinton Is Winning Upper-Income Voters