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The Party of "Old White People" Should Protect Entitlements, Right?

David Callahan

Paul Krugman noted on ABC's This Week yesterday that the GOP's problem is that their "base is old white people."

This is largely true. Exit polls show that Mitt Romney won all voters 65 and older by 12 percentage points, and white older voters by 22 points. Barack Obama won all voters under thirty by 23 points, and nonwhite young voters by 36 points. 

Such numbers are a big problem for the GOP amid fast changing demographics, as we've heard often in recent months.

But here's an interesting question raised by the same data: If the GOP leans so heavily on older white voters, then why is it leading the charge to cuts entitlements for seniors? 

Politics is supposed to be about who gets what, but things often don't work that way. In 2011, the New York Times ran a fascinating chart about the percentage of personal income that comes from government benefits in different states. It showed that hardcore Republican states -- where a lot of those older white coservative voters live -- relied most heavily on benefits, with Social Security the largest form of assistance. In a previous post, I looked at John McCain's margin of victory in 2008 in those states with the highest reliance on government benefits:

West Virginia: 28 percent of all personal income in this state come from government programs. McCain won the state by 13 points. 

Mississippi: 26.2 percent of personal income from government benefits; McCain margin: 13 points. 

Kentucky: 24.8 percent income from benefits; McCain margin: 17 points. 

Arkansas: 24.5 percent income from benefits; McCain margin: 20 points.

South Carolina: 23.4 percent income from benefits; McCain margin: 9 points. 

Alabama: 23.4 percent income from benefits; McCain margin: 22 points. 

These numbers make you wonder: Do older GOP voters really understand that the conservative assault on government "handouts" may end up reducing their standard of living? And, if they do get better clued into that fact, will the GOP face pushback against entitlement cuts from their own base? 

Entitlements aren't the only area where Republicans aren't doing a good job of serving the narrow financial interests of their base. As I have noted often, the U.S. tax system disprortionately raises revenue from affluent people in coastal blue states and keeps taxes low on Americans of more modest means in the red states. You'd think heartland Republicans would be okay with this arrangement; instead they have relentlessly fought proposals that would shift even more of the tax burden to residents of Manhattan and Malibu

Likewise, one big feature of the reviled Affordable Care Act is that the law taxes rich people -- which just started happening this month with the Medicare payroll surtax -- and subsidizes health insurance for low-income people. The states I mentioned above, with high concentrations of poor rural residents, will benefit from this arrangement. Connecticut will not. 

So amid all the talk of the GOP's grim long-term prospects, let's add another liability to the list: Congressional Republicans aren't attuned to one of the most basic responsibilities of elected leaders -- putting more money in the pockets of their constituents and getting somebody else's constituents to pick up the tab.