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Rich state, poor state, red state, blue state: who’s voting for whom in Presidential elections?

Higher-income states support the Democrats, but higher-income voters support the Republicans. This confuses a lot of people (for example, see here and here).

Boris presented our paper on the topic at the Midwest Political Science meeting last weekend. Here’s the presentation (we’re still working on the paper).

Here’s the abstract for the paper:

For decades, the Democrats have been viewed as the party of the poor with the Republicans representing the rich. In recent years, however, a reverse pattern has been seen, with Democrats showing strength in the richer “blue” states in the Northeast and West, and Republicans dominating in the “red” states in the middle of the country. Through multilevel analysis of individual-level survey data and county- and state-level demographic and electoral data, we reconcile these patterns. We find that there has indeed been a trend toward richer areas supporting the Democrats–but within states and counties, and overall, the Democrats retain the support of the poorer voters. This pattern has confused many political commentators into falsely believing that Republicans represent poorer voters than Democrats.

And here are some cool quotes that illustrate the ambiguities of the relation between income and political preference:

I never said all Democrats are saloon-keepers. What I said is that all saloon-keepers are Democrats. – Horace Greeley, 1860

Pat doesn’t have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat. – Richard Nixon, 1952

I come from Huntington, a small farming community in Indiana. I
had an upbringing like many in my generation–a life built around
family, public school, Little League, basketball and church on Sunday. My brother and I shared a room in our two-bedroom house. – Dan Quayle, 1992

Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent
household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. — Toni Morrison, 1998

Like upscale areas everywhere, from Silicon Valley to Chicago’s
North Shore to suburban Connecticut, Montgomery County supported the
Democratic ticket in last year’s presidential election, by a margin
of 63 percent to 34 percent. – David Brooks, 2001

A lot of Bush’s red zones can be traced to wealthy enclaves or sun-belt suburbs where tax cuts are king. – Matt Bai, 2001

But in the Ipsos-Reid surveys, 38 percent of voters in “strong Bush” counties said that they had household incomes below $30,000, while 7 percent said that their families earned at least $100,000. In “strong Gore” counties, by contrast, only 29 percent of voters pegged their household income below $30,000, while 14 percent said that it was above $100,000. – James Barnes, 2002

P.S. Typo in first sentence of this entry fixed (thanks to Jody’s comment).


  1. Jody says:

    "Higher-income states support the Democrats, but higher-income voters support the Democrats."

    I think there's a typo there in light of slide 13…

  2. eriposte says:

    I've posted a comment on this at The Left Coaster, providing a different perspective on the wealth and voting issue.

  3. Auros says:

    This certainly matches my informal observations; however, it's worth asking WHY the middle- and lower-middle classes in the blue states trend more "blue" than the corresponding people in red states? Is it a historical/cultural artifact? Is it that the larger tax base in the blue states led to better public education for a while? Or what?

  4. Kaleberg says:

    Why has the inverse causality been ruled out? Why shouldn't you grammatically invert a few sentences and flip your charts around the 45 degree axis? As best I can tell, this study shows correlation, not causality, so why choose one causal hypothesis over the other?

    As far as I can tell by holding my head sideways: states where people vote for Democrats and their policies tend to be wealthier than states where people vote for Republicans and their policies.

    Given the known correlation between high taxes and economic growth this sort of makes sense. States where people vote for high taxes tend to become wealthier. Remember, wealthier anti-business Democratic states tend to subsidize poorer pro-business Republican states. ("Pro" and "anti" are being used as ideological markers in this note and have nothing to do with the favorability of policies to businesses).

    Why do richer people vote for Republicans? That's obvious as well. Hungry people will eat more at a buffet than people who are not hungry. The more money you have, the less interested you are in wealth creation, so you vote Republican. Republican policies support wealth preservation in static, no-growth economies.

  5. Boris S. says:

    Auros, state-level variation remains very puzzling to us. Our plan is to gather state-level data, and combine that with the individual-level data we have to enrich our multilevel model.

    One potential theory could be that average state income is a proxy for secularism, or that there is an interaction between income and geography on turnout decisions, something else.

    Kaleberg, you are jumping to a conclusion that is not suggested (yet) by our paper.

    We discuss presidential voting in our paper, which is of course not the same thing as gubernatorial or congressional voting, or even as party id.

    You are suggesting that there are state-specific differences in policy that lead to differential wealth creation. That may be, but certainly the federal government will be far less involved in variegating state economic policy than local government.

    Finally, we were careful not to make causal arguments (yet). Without additional data, your suggestion remains speculative. What such additional data would you suggest we gather that could confirm/falsify your hypothesis?