Rich Americans tend to be relatively culturally liberal, in the sense of being pro-gay, pro-abortion, anti-racist, feminist, etc. This is likely because those traits associate with being intelligent, educated, and worldly, and those traits are associated with having more money.
Rich Americans also tend to be relatively economically conservative, because people tend to follow their self interest on that kind of thing.
As with other Americans, these two spectra are weirdly correlated: the more culturally liberal someone is, the more economically liberal they’re likely to be, and vice versa.
American politics is dominated by the rich, so the political struggles we see are mostly based on differences of opinion within the ruling class. No matter how many non-rich people want something, if no rich folks are involved it doesn’t happen, while a faction of rich people can have a big impact even without much in the way of popular support.
The shape of modern American politics is that the relatively culturally and economically conservative faction of the ruling class (meaning culturally moderate and extremely economically conservative compared to the rest of the country) runs the Republican Party, while the relatively culturally and economically liberal faction of the ruling class (meaning extremely culturally liberal and moderate economically compared to the rest of the country) runs the Democratic Party, with a little support from what there is of non-ruling class power, basically the surviving labor unions.
This is how we end up with the Democrats espousing overwhelmingly popular economic policies that put them right in the center of the American people, and getting beaten by Republicans spouting off extreme right wing insanity.
The shape of the American electorate is that rural areas are culturally conservative and urban areas are culturally liberal, and that economic views pretty much correlate with wealth, with the median view of what our economy should look like being a bit to the left of Sweden. Of course voting also correlates pretty perfectly with wealth, with a nice smooth curve going down from nearly 100% of the top 1% of income earners voting, down to nearly 0% of the bottom 1%.
The Republican donor base will fund candidates as long as they are economically conservative. The Democratic donor base will fund candidates as long as they’re culturally liberal. This has had an unfortunate consequence in our politics: the abandonment of rural America to the Republican Party. The Democratic donor base will only finance a culturally liberal candidate, and such a candidate simply cannot win in these culturally conservative areas. Republicans hold a huge majority of state level offices, because of this very phenomenon. Democrats are simply not interested in offering the product that would allow them to compete with the Republicans in these areas: a culturally conservative but economically liberal candidate.
Can you imagine a gun-toting, flag-waving, anti-PC, pro-life little bit racist, little bit homophobic candidate who also wanted to expand social security, expand unions, and follow Keynesian economic policy? That could be a very popular platform in certain parts of the country. Can you imagine such a candidate being a part of the Democratic Party? Can you imagine such a candidate receiving the vast sums of Democratic donor money he would need to even begin to compete? And it should go without saying that such a platform would never get any support from Republican donors.
Now as someone far to both the cultural and economic left, I don’t find that candidate very appealing either. But man, it’s not like he’d be running in my district, he’d be running in some district where the other option was someone who was not only economically conservative, but also even worse on the cultural stuff!
Now it’s not like I’m going to convince any Democratic donors to start giving to racist red state leftists. And even if they did, these are big systematic issues, not to be resolved by some individual donor decisions (well maybe a few billionaires, Jesus, our elections are fucked up). However, there is a solution that is already very much under discussion: public financing of elections. If we can produce an effective enough system that candidates without much in the way of donor support can still have a real chance, that changes things quite a bit. I think we would start to see the rise of culturally conservative economically liberal politicians. Look, for example, at Europe, where there has been a surge in what are dubbed ‘right-wing populist’ parties, and which are in reality parties that are culturally right-wing while actually being to the left of the local conservatives, and sometimes even to the left of the local center-left party in terms of opposition to austerity. And of course Europe is full of publicly financed elections.
So this is something we should be prepared for. Publicly financed elections will let us elect more economically liberal candidates in urban areas, which will be unambiguously great. The more ambiguous part is that we may get the return of the Democratic Party in rural areas in the form of culturally conservative, economically liberal populists. Or maybe people with that platform will run as Republicans once they can get funded to do so. The thing is, they (hopefully!) will be an important part of any coalition to move economic policy to the left to any real degree. The voting block of poor, rural, culturally conservative and economically liberal block of voters need to be activated, and they need to be activated by politicians who share all of those traits with them. That’s democracy! Or at least, that’s how it should be. And man do I wish that guys who I think of us nutty Tea Party types could get money to run for office even if they are on the left economically.