For example, the Republican Party is often said by Democrats to be tied with the financial community - Republicans favor Wall Street and big banking over the little man and woman. If so, nobody told the financial community. In this election, the wealthy interests clearly wanted a Democratic president. New York County, New York (Manhattan) - Wall Street and the center of big finance in this country - voted overwhelmingly (nearly 9 to 1) Democrat in this election, one of the highest ratios of the country. (Yes, there are a lot of low-income households in Manhattan, but one in five residents there makes over $400,000 a year. Income from financial services accounts for more than half the income of Manhattan.)
In this presidential cycle, the campaign donations from the top four mega-banks in the U.S. – Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup – were nearly evenly split between Republican and Democratic candidates, as banks saw both parties as supporters to Big Finance regardless of who was elected. The 2008 bailout of the financial industry voted on by Congress was approved by a substantial majority (more than 2 to 1) of Democratic Congressmen and Congresswomen and a minority of Republicans.
The evidence shows that when you dig deeper, you find that coincidentally, many of those groups have a vested financial interest in the political candidate or party they are supporting. The intense levels of hatred and contempt among politicians, media and individuals displayed during the various political campaigns reveal an intense level of fear. With politicians, their obvious fear is that they won’t get into office and will lose the power that they so desperately crave. But how about individuals and corporations? What is it that they are so afraid of losing if a particular candidate gets into office?
Look deeper and you find that a concern like a politician said to support “greedy Wall Street” is not exclusive to a political party but are often used for smokescreen.
What the votes tell us
There are certain demographic profiles that have had a major impact on presidential elections over the last few decades. For example, the most educated and least educated segments of society tend to vote Democrat. Younger voters, minorities, those in unions and urban residents mostly vote Democrat. Religious individuals, past or current military and those married are more likely to vote Republican.
Marriage has a significant impact on voting patterns, especially with women. In this 2016 presidential election, marrieds (both sexes) favored the Republican by more than fifteen percentage points over the Democrat. This marriage differential has been between 15 and 20 percentage points (marrieds in favor of Republicans) for each presidential election of the last two decades.
Single women generally have very high rates of voting Democrat, with a 67% to 31% advantage over Republicans in the 2012 election. In that election, a clear majority of white married women voted for the Republican candidate, while unmarried white women favored the Democrat by 10% percentage points. In this year’s election married women voted nearly equally between the two major parties, but unmarried women voted almost two to one in favor of the Democrat.
In fact, an analysis by political science professor George Hawley, found that for a given race, income or education background, marriage is the most important variable on voting patterns. Perhaps not coincidentally, marriage is also one of the most important factors in determining whether or not an individual participates in a government assistance “means-tested” program. According to the U.S. Census, in 2012 (the most recent year available), 50% of unmarried women with children participate in such a program while just 15% of married women with children.
Let’s look at a question from this year’s presidential exit poll that highlights the connection between American voters’ financial confidence and their resulting votes. Of the voters who said their “family financial situation” was better today than four years earlier, 72% said they voted for the Democrat and 24% for the Republican. Conversely, of those who said they are in worse financial condition today, 78% voted for Republican and just 19% for the Democrat.
Interestingly, these percentages are almost identical to voter’s responses to the question of their satisfaction of how the federal government “is working”. Nearly the same percentage of those who said their financial situation had improved was “satisfied” or “enthusiastic” with how the government was doing. And nearly the same percentage who said they were worse off financially was dissatisfied with the government. The clear message seems to be that those who are doing better want that to continue. So they are electing the individual from the current political party, presumably, who will continue the same policies, with the same financial benefits as they do now. Financial security may include explicit government benefits like unemployment, food stamp programs, housing or welfare assistance, but may also the guarantee of a government job or one that is heavily supported by government spending, such as the military or healthcare.
What about the “professional” voters?
As far as influencing political policy, the reality is that individual voters can’t do much. Collectively they can certainly decide the winners and losers in political contests, but their individual influence is very limited. On the other hand, lobbyists, and the financial resources that back them, can have a significant factor on setting government policy. The job of lobbyists is to persuade those in state governments, Congress, the executive branch, even the courts, to give special benefits to certain companies, industries and special-interest groups. Below is a chart showing the amount of lobbyist spending for just the second quarter of this year. The pharmaceutical and health product industry has been the biggest lobbyist group in the U.S. for the last five years.
Here’s another graphic showing lobbyist spending over almost two decades…
And this next chart shows the steady increase in lobbyist spending since 2000, with yearly spending exceeding $3 billion at the federal level alone, significantly more than all the salaries and benefits paid in Congress.
Lobbyists spend a huge amount of money lobbying because they expect to receive a bigger payout in the form of special tax breaks, protections against competitors, government contracts for services and other benefits. Lobbyists lobby because they expect a high return on their investment. And they usually get it. A few years ago, the organization Republic Report put together some of the special tax breaks and corporate benefits into the graph shown below. In this you see the incredible “investment returns” that lobbyist groups got from some of their investments. For example, the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 was created not just in Congress, but with the assistance of some multinational corporations that lobbied for and got a tax holiday, saving billions in taxes. The saved taxes were more than 220 times the lobbyist “capital” invested. While not every lobbying effort pays off as handsomely as the three shown below, the fact is that the billions of dollars spent on lobbying is moving hundreds of billions of dollars around the country, toward those groups who are most successfully able to influence politicians, with their time and money.
Could the U.S. ever again be a place where politicians are not corrupted by votes, rich donor contributions, and the lobbyist efforts from corporations, unions and special interest groups? Where political candidates are elected on their merits alone and not how much they are able to raise in donations and subsequent negative advertising on other candidates. And where voters are not corrupted by potential tax breaks and government programs, but are voting solely on principles of integrity and virtue? As long as politicians have the potential to be corrupted by the political and governmental process, we will attract corrupt politicians. When the potential for political corruption is ended we will see a deeper pool of honest politicians. Until then, the vote-buying and vote-selling will continue.
By the way, for those individuals upset with the election results and with the fear of losing current or future financial benefits, they needn’t worry. The president is one person. He or she has a Congress which passes major laws, and thousands of unelected bureaucrats regularly adding more rules and regulations to the 180,000 pages of the Code of Federal Regulations.
As we have learned from nearly every president and administration over the last century, there is very little that is changed from previous administrations. For all the condemnation of presidential policy on the campaign trail, new White House Residents and their new Congresses rarely remove any of the laws already promised or in place. Some new laws are written but usually with the approval of many or most politicians from both sides of the isle. The vested interests in the country are too well-established, voter, corporate and special-interest expectations of benefits are too high, the willingness to float trillion dollar deficits too engrained in the psyche of political and government officials, and the two-way street necessity of vote-buying too important. It will take much more than one man or one woman to make a real change. It will require a change in the entire structure of fundraising, lobbying and vote-buying in government. And that isn’t coming any time soon.