An elitist is a person who believes that society should be led by a select group of people. In most of the Western world, an elitist would be a person who favored those with wealth, power, education, and/or intellect over the more workaday “common person.” Elitist can also mean pertaining to elitism, and it’s a term that has become increasingly pejorative. When a society has elite members, often structured on wealth or education, many people can belong to an elite or select class, but that doesn’t necessarily make them elitist in a negative sense because many people in the elite are quite capable of empathy for people not as privileged as themselves.
In recent years, the term has been used in a much looser way, and people (especially politicians) who have had access to wealth, power, or superior education have been labeled elitists. The basic implication here is that all people belonging to the upper strata of society will discriminate against other classes, and cannot possibly understand or take a populist view of matters. It’s therefore considered political death if a label of elitist sticks to a politician, since most of the people who make up the voting populace are not members of elite groups.
The term elitist, with synonyms like snob or descriptions like "being in an ivory tower," is then essentially negative. There is little question that true elitists are disconnected from the average person and are practicing a form of discrimination. In places like the United States where a diverse racial population exists, it’s also been suggested that the term elitist is code for terms like racist.
It is still a leap though to make the assumption that a person from the elite classes will always preference his/her own class and puts his/her interests in that class above all else. In the 2008 presidential election, the term was used by both major party candidates to try to define their opposition as elitist. Yet "evidence" for allegations of elitism included things like pointing to wealth and privilege, preferring Starbucks® lattes over a regular cup of Joe, and determining that education at an Ivy League college automatically lead to elitism. These were accusations with the barest shreds of proof given each candidate’s desire to cast himself as populist.
There’s also a line of argument that comes from the populace about whether a member of the elite class is better suited to lead by nature of his/her evidence of success. Wouldn’t a first rate education or acquirement of material wealth suggest some abilities that might not be evidenced by someone with less education or of lower socio-economic status? This is a matter often debated, as to whether it's beneficial for the populace to elect leaders from the elite or to shake things up by electing those who trace their roots to populace origins.