Special Report

On the Elites and Counter-Elites: Polling the Elites

On the Elites and Counter-Elites (full series)
WEIRD | Polling the Elites | What Makes an Elite?
The Elites and California Disease | Whither the Counter-Elite?

Polling the Elites

In late 2023, the Committee to Unleash Prosperity (CtUP) commissioned pollster Scott Rasmussen (now of RMG Research, not the eponymous polling and media company Rasmussen Reports, which he founded and since has departed) to investigate America’s elite class. The CtUP-commissioned polling defined the “American Elite” as individuals “having at least one postgraduate degree, earning at least $150,000 annually, and living in high-population density areas (more than 10,000 people per square mile in their zip code).” In practice, the last criterion roughly corresponds to residence in dense urban areas around New York City; San Francisco; Boston; Miami; Chicago; Philadelphia; Washington, DC; and Providence, Rhode Island—all of which have population densities above 10,000 per square mile for their central cities—as well as some high-density areas of other metropolitan areas.

These criteria are notable for a couple of reasons. First, the annual-income cutoff at $150,000 is high but not exceptionally high. A household making that amount is outside the top 10 percent of U.S. households by household income, and in the metropolitan areas likely to satisfy the 10,000 people per square mile criterion that amount of money does not go exceptionally far because of the higher cost of living. Second, both postgraduate education and living in a major, dense urban city both select for Democratic allegiance by a wide margin. Of the core cities that meet the threshold, only Miami is in a state carried by Donald Trump in 2020. Except for Staten Island (Richmond County, New York), none of the cities are in a county carried by Trump in either 2016 or 2020. And only Miami has a Republican mayor. Even within red states, dense urban metropoles tend to be the most Democratic-aligned parts of the state, with the glaring exception of (again) Miami, Florida.

As a result, Scott Rasmussen and CtUP have surveyed a very specific population highly predisposed to hard progressivism. But this is still an important population, despite its relatively small size (approximately 1 percent of the population). As CRC argued when we conducted our survey of SuperZIP political giving back in 2016–2017, the “rich folks in the Big Four [culturally and politically influential cities of New York, San Fransico, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC] make decisions that affect every American.”

So, what decisions might these elites make? Horrifying ones, if the CtUP polling is to be believed. The elites claimed to favor “the strict rationing of gas, meat, and electricity” in the name of fighting climate change by a margin of 77 percent to 22 percent, with the Ivy League/elite-private university educated subset favoring rationing by a margin of 89 to 10. For comparison, a representative sample of registered voters opposed such rationing 63 percent to 28 percent.

Similar margins of elites favor banning gas stoves (69 percent) and internal-combustion cars (72 percent), with smaller elite majorities favoring bans on sport-utility vehicles (58 percent), private air conditioning (53 percent), and nonessential air travel (55 percent). CtUP and Rasmussen note further, “More than two-thirds of the Ivy Elite school college grads would ban each of these. For the average American, less than one in four of these voters favor any of these bans.”

Now, when dealing with the highly problematic discipline of issue polling, it is possible that these respondents are not accurately reflecting their views. We have very good reason to believe that, in this case: Namely, the claimed political preferences of the elites explicitly contradict their actual lives.

In 2023, the Pew Research Center polled Americans on their international traveling habits, and classified the roughly one-fourth of Americans who had traveled to five or more countries as “globe-trotters.” While Pew did not stack the demographics into one omnibus classification like Scott Rasmussen and CtUP did, Pew found that 59 percent of postgraduate respondents qualified as “globe-trotters,” with only 4 percent having said they had never traveled outside the United States. Upper-income respondents were even more likely than postgraduates to qualify as “globe-trotters” than postgraduates, with over two-thirds claiming to have more than five countries on their list and only 3 percent having never left America. (There was less division by urban/suburban/rural residence, and interestingly no statistically significant division by political party.)

So either a fair number of America’s high-income, postgraduate-educated elites are enlisting as ratings on 100-gun ships of the line, or they are not telling the truth about either their travel habits or their preferences for restricting the means of travel. One also suspects precious few elites do not have air conditioning in their residences: According to the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. federal government, adoption of air conditioning in U.S. homes is almost universal at 88 percent. Maybe some of the San Franciscans and Seattleites do not, but that would come only because of their mild marine climate, which has reduced adoption of air conditioning in the Pacific Coast region; the New Yorkers, Washingtonians, and Miamians almost assuredly do.

Even if there is rampant preference falsification among the elite respondents to the CtUP polling, it is alarming that elites would even claim to hold these radical views as signaling. It suggests that the circles that elites are living in select for left-wing radicalism. This is gravely concerning given that CtUP-defined elites exert great influence over campaign contributions; the ideological alignment of Big Institutions like philanthropic foundations, labor unions, corporate HR departments, and media outlets; and the tone of political discussions in public forums. (CtUP’s polling has found that the elites are more likely to discuss politics publicly than non-elites.)

In the next installment, elites may be defined more by status than wealth. 

Michael Watson

Michael is Research Director for Capital Research Center and serves as the managing editor for InfluenceWatch. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he previously worked for a…
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