The Great Divide

The current state of American politics can be summed up in this poll data, published today by Rasmussen Reports:

75% of Likely Voters prefer free markets over a government managed economy. Just 14% think a government managed economy is better while 11% are not sure.

Well, one would hope so. But here is the kicker:

America’s Political Class is far less enamored with the virtues of a free market. In fact, Political Class voters narrowly prefer a government managed economy over free markets by a 44% to 37% margin.

That strikes me as a rather stunning finding. Rasmussen divides voters into “mainstream” and “political class” based on their answers to these questions:

– Generally speaking, when it comes to important national issues, whose judgment do you trust more – the American people or America’s political leaders?
– Some people believe that the federal government has become a special interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests. Has the federal government become a special interest group?
– Do government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors?

Most voters answer these questions in a way that categorizes them as “mainstream,” while a minority’s answers signify that they identify with the political class. Among “mainstream” voters, 90% prefer free markets over government control.
It strikes me that these data largely explain the political turmoil of the last year. The political class, now firmly in the saddle in Washington, wants to substitute government control for free choice wherever possible. Since members of the political class communicate mostly with each other, they evidently underestimated the extent to which such policies would be unpopular with mainstream Americans.
This is notable, too: there has been much controversy over whether the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats (or many of them, anyway) can fairly be labeled “socialist.” Many on the left purport to view that label as a vile epithet. But a plurality of the political class, not just a far-left fringe, thinks that a government-managed economy is better than free enterprise. If that isn’t socialist, what is?
The difference between the political class and the American mainstream is perhaps the most important divide in our current politics, more significant than that between Democrats and Republicans or even conservatives and liberals (although there is obviously much overlap in those pairings). The tea party fits well into this structure. While no doubt mostly Republican and mostly conservative, the tea party represents, more than anything else, the rebellion of mainstream Americans against the political class.
All of which helps to explain why, as Michael Barone explained, the dogs don’t like the dog food.
This is posted, by the way, aboard a Delta flight from Denver to Minneapolis, using Delta’s excellent onboard wi-fi.

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