"Starbucks Republicans" -- reality or latest political babble?

Sunday's Raleigh News & Observer features an essay about a new political demographic that supposedly will be decisive in 2006:

First it was "soccer moms" -- flooding the roadways of suburbia Saturday mornings in their minivans and SUVs with their kids in tow -- who were targeted as the swing voters who could decide an election.

Then it was "security moms," "NASCAR dads," "office park dads" and "wired workers."

This year, it's "Starbucks Republicans" -- mostly young suburbanites who are fiscally conservative and socially moderate and won't hesitate to pay $4 for a triple grande iced caramel macchiato. And, with a midterm election looming that could change the balance of power in Congress, polls show they have become increasingly disenchanted with President Bush and Republicans.

It sounds catchy, but is there anything to it? The first politician that writer Les Blumenthal asks about the label -- Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash -- says he'd never heard of it, the article doesn't give much more compelling evidence. In fact, it turns out that "Starbucks Republicans" means pretty much the same thing as all the previous labels -- suburban voters:

More than half of the nation's voters live in the suburbs. According to one GOP analysis, 138 suburban districts are represented in Congress by Republicans and 86 by Democrats. But a recent poll commissioned by Republicans found a majority of suburban voters believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. The poll also found that even as suburban voters are concerned about broader issues such as the war in Iraq and national security, they are also worried about kitchen-table issues including gangs, education and sprawl.

Which is another way of saying that the concerns of this "new" demographic are pretty much identitical to those of the "old" demographics of Soccer Moms, Office Park Dads, and Wired Workers. Fortunately, the N&O story gets a little more specific towards the bottom:

A Florida-based Democratic pollster, Dave Beattie, coined the phrase "Starbucks Republicans" in 2004, calling them independent-leaning voters in high-growth areas in the South and West who ultimately backed Bush two years ago but are now disappointed in the president and the Republican Congress.


Beattie said that although the group's support for Bush had been waning, Congress' attempt to get involved in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case and the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina were the "tipping points" in the growing skepticism about the political status quo.

I have no doubt that Schiavo and Katrina -- examples of far-right fundamentalism and sky-high incompetence, respectively -- are causing many voters in the "persuadable middle" to be filled with alarm.

But the question still lurks -- how big and real is the "Starbucks Republican" suburban constituency? For example, pollster Ruy Teixeira has done a lot of thinking about politics in the suburbs. And according to his research, the suburbs aren't exactly headquarters of the "$4 triple grande iced caramel macchiato" set:

* About 58 percent of emerging suburban residents and 69 percent of true exurban residents are white working class - that is, are whites without a four year college degree. Only 23 percent and 16 percent, respectively, in these areas are college-educated whites.

* In terms of occupation, overwhelming numbers of emerging suburban and exurban workers do not hold professional or managerial jobs - 65 percent and 71 percent, respectively. In both types of areas, there are more construction and production workers than professionals and way more sales and office workers than managers.

Based on that reality, a real political strategy that looked at the suburbs would be talking about issues of economic security and fairness, along with quality of life issues like education and sprawl.

Focusing on a small number of hip, young wealthy independents -- in the 80s didn't we call them yuppies? -- is not only a strategy for failure, but it seems like an effort to back away from policies that can speak to the broad needs and aspirations of millions of Americans, from the middle class down to the urban and rural poor.

I have a demographic to go after: what about "average folks?"