The Myths of Red and Blue States
Readers of this blog might be interested in a new book on electoral politics set to arrive in bookstores at the end of summer. Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State by Andrew Gelman — my colleague in Columbia University’s political science department — explodes some well-trod myths about American voting behavior.
Consider, for example, what he calls the “red-blue paradox”: rich states vote Democratic; poor states vote Republican. Two explanations that readily come to mind are shown to be invalid by Gelman: namely that Democrats are picking up a greater share of rich votes (not true); or that rich states are growing more socially liberal (also not true). To provide a better account, Gelman works his way, state by state, to help us better understand the relationship of class, culture, and voting. The book is a terrific read and offers much insight into the changing electoral landscape.
Taking class into account: at the lower end of the income spectrum Gelman doesn’t really find significant differences in voting between the states — in red and blue states, the poor vote similarly.
At the higher end of the income spectrum, however, the differences are more stark. In his words:
… income strongly predicts Republican voting in red America but not in blue America, where rich people are conflicted in their economic and social views … the key question is, what happened in the past twenty years to explain the red-blue pattern among upper-income voters?
The rich who live in red states have grown much more conservative on social issues (than their counterparts in blue states) and this trend has produced great gains for the Republican Party.
Perhaps this suggests that Obama’s political strategy should be targeted toward rich voters in blue states. That is, red staters are going to vote as they always have, so why spend the resources to change their minds. For his part, McCain ought to hold onto his blue state voters, since he (also) can’t do much to alter voting patterns in red states.
Elsewhere, Gelman writes that
Our results stand in contradiction to the commonly held idea that social issues detract lower income voters from their natural economic concerns.
Church attendance predicts Republican voting among the rich, not necessarily among the poor. And even more directly, he states:
It does not appear to be the case that rich people vote based on their economic interests, with lower income voters being more likely to be swayed by emotional appeals.
I wonder what Thomas Frank might say in response.