Dems Might Be the Party of the Rich, But What About the Middle Class?

USA Today presents some interesting, if perhaps not groundbreaking, numbers on socioeconomic representation in Congress today. According to the report, which is based on analysis of census data,

Democratic members of the House of Representatives now represent most of the nation's wealthiest people, a sharp turnaround from the long-standing dominance that Republicans have held over affluent districts ... Democrats now represent 57% of the 4.8 million households that had incomes of $200,000 or more in 2008. In 2005, Republicans represented 55% of those affluent households.

The change in distribution of seats in the House is roughly the same size as the shift the article describes—although USA Today's data doesn't connect any dots between the two. Still, it goes without saying that some of the shift is a natural product of Democrats' electoral gains in the 2008 elections, in which they picked up 21 seats.

The study shows that Democratic representatives tend to represent the poorest districts, too. Its strength among both the wealthy and the poor has been discussed before—NEWSWEEK's Daniel Gross wrote about the new wave of progressive CEOs last week, and last month Thomas Edsall of The New Republic addressed the balancing act Democratic leaders face in satisfying their constituents on either end of the income spectrum—but it's interesting to see hard figures on the topic.

What the analysis doesn't tell us is what this means for the much-obsessed-over demographic of middle-class voters. Jonah Goldberg, writing on the National Review's Corner blog, poses a rhetorical question about who owns that slice. Presumably, the suggestion is that the GOP does, but he doesn't present any more evidence than USA Today does that Republicans are gaining among those voters or that Democrats are losing them. Gallup polls from last fall, taken shortly before the election, show that voters who supported Barack Obama tended to do so because they believed his policies would help the middle class (in contrast to those of John McCain, which they believed would benefit the affluent most). That hardly suggests a large shift by middle-income voters to the GOP. But if, as Edsall suggests they might, Democrats have trouble unifying their fractious coalition, Republicans could profit by making inroads into the middle.

So what does the study tell us? Demographic analyst Warren Glimpse told USA Today, "What's not clear is whether this reflects a profound change or a temporary blip." It looks like these numbers might be neither—just an obvious reflection of electoral reality.