In the midst of an interesting critique of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in the Weekly Standard, Matthew Continetti offers the best debunking I've seen yet of the much-hyped "investor class" thesis that stock ownership will magically turn people into Republicans:
Conservatives used to cast a wary eye on class politics. But that was when the classes involved were sullen proletarians and priggish patricians. Today a whole cottage industry has sprung up to promote the "investor class" as the keystone supporting the Republican majority. As magazine publisher and political strategist Richard Nadler, who popularized the idea of the "investor class," put it: "It stands to reason" that the investor class's "growth would benefit Republicans," because "high-income voters trend Republican." To enter capital markets, so the theory goes, is to undergo a transformative experience. If you own stock, the investor-class theorists preach, you'll save more, spend less, start reading the Wall Street Journal, and no longer support government intrusion into the economy. If you are bald, you'll grow hair. If you are a Democrat, you'll vote Republican.
Actually, if you are a Democrat who owns stock, you probably won't turn into a Republican. Consider: According to the 2000 Rasmussen Portrait of America exit poll, 51 percent of voters who owned more than $5,000 in "equities, bonds, and mutual funds" cast their ballots for George W. Bush. Al Gore, by contrast, received the support of 45 percent of investors. Now compare those numbers to last year's. According to the 2004 Investors Action poll, Bush received the votes of 52 percent of investors last November. John Kerry received the votes of 46 percent of investors. Which is to say: Over a period of four years in which the number of stock-owning households no doubt increased, there was no significant change--close to no change at all, in fact--in investor voting patterns.
The theory of the investor class, it turns out, is long on assertion and supposition but short on evidence. And yet, conservatives--who are normally alert to the limitations of crude economic determinism--have tended to swoon over the investor-class thesis. "Rather than 52 percent of Americans owning stocks and bonds," writes Stephen Moore in his new book Bullish on Bush, "the Bush [Social Security] plan would rocket that share up to 80 or perhaps even 90 percent." To which the average conservative reader these days may react: "Think of all the new Republicans there will be!"
But while universal stock ownership may be desirable for other reasons--most economists believe that lower-income Americans would benefit from having at least some of their savings in stocks--it hardly guarantees political catnip for Republicans. For one thing, if 80 or 90 percent of Americans own stocks and bonds, "investors" will no longer be a class at all--unless it's the class of all voters, in both parties. Furthermore--and more immediately--there's a corollary to the investor-class thesis that favors Democrats. As more people enter the market, they may turn to politicians who offer protection from rapacious capitalists and irresponsible money managers. Burned by market downturns, they will want politicians to go after those who did them harm. And those politicians, in turn, will say they are "saving" markets in the process. Politicians like Eliot Spitzer.