A couple of colleagues sent me a copy of an article by Steve Sailer in The American Conservative called Value Voters and subtitled, “The best indicator of whether a state will swing Red or Blue? The cost of buying a home and raising a family.” It’s here online, and an excerpt is on Sailer’s blog.
The article gives a new (to me) take on the red-state, blue-state paradox: the point that Republicans do well in lower-income states, even though they do better among richer voters. Sailer points out that the strong Republican states in the south and middle of the country have lower cost of living (which of course goes along with them being low income). But, more to the point, many of the rich, Democratic-leaning metropolitan have housing costs that are even more expensive. Sailer attributes some of this to what he calls the Dirt Gap–coastal cities such as NY, Boston, and LA are bounded by water which limits their potential for growth, as compared to inland cities such as Dallas or St. Louis: “The supply of suburban land available for development is larger in Red State cities, so the price is lower.”
Sailer notes that Republicans do better among married voters, and he has the following impressive graph:
Even excluding D.C., the correlation is high. (Sailer has some discussion about why he’s only looking at white women here. I don’t follow all his reasoning here; you can read his article to get the details.)
We were talking about Sailer’s article around the office today, and the point was made that the above graph illustrates that Bush did better in states where people are more culturally conservative (in this case, as measured by the chance of women marrying at a young age).
I’m not quite sure how this relates to our finding that the Republican advantage among high-income voters is large in poor states and small in rich states. One suggestion was that, in poor states, your high income gets you a larger house, whereas in a rich state, even with a high income you’re not living in a palace. Sailer might say that cultural conservatives will move out of rich states, even if they’re high income, because they want a nice house with a yard for their kids to play in. We’ve tried to look into some of these things, but it’s a challenge to analyze data on moving. It’s easier to analyze cross-sectional surveys, so that’s what we spend most of our time doing.
To get back to the main point, Sailer is making a geographic argument, that Democrats do better in coastal states because families are less likely to live in coastal metropolitan areas, because housing there is so expensive, because of the geography: less nearby land for suburbs. This makes a lot of sense, although it doesn’t really explain why the people without kids want to vote for Democrats and people with kids want to vote for Republicans. I can see that more culturally conservative people are voting Republican, and these people are more likely to marry and have kids at younger ages–but in that sense the key driving variable is the conservatism, not the marriage or the kids.
I think Sailer’s arguments are interesting but I can’t quite follow him all the way to his conclusion, where he says that “the late housing bubble . . . reduced the affordability of family formation, which should help the Democrats in the long run.” I just don’t see where the data are showing this. I’m not saying he’s wrong–I’ve certainly heard it said, for example, that the postwar boom helped the Republicans, and conservative causes generally, by moving millions of people up into the middle class–but it just seems like a stretch. I also don’t follow his claim that if the Republican party should move to restrict immigration–that it “could then position itself as the party of more weddings and more babies.” Immigrants have weddings and babies too, right?
That said, the point about affordability of housing seems important, and it’s not always captured in standard cost-of-living measures (see here). And it’s interesting to see these correlations between demography and voting.
P.S. Some of the comments to Sailer’s blog entry are pretty amazing; for example, “For white engineers like me this is a hard call. Engineering jobs outside of these deep blue areas seem to be very rare. High-tech companies tend to get rich and attract immigrants of other ethnicities and races who happily raise families in apartments. You will not be able to find a white woman who shares this preference” and “Expensive housing is merely an attribute of the kinds of lives which are led by the people who choose Death over Life.” I suppose it’s good for a Manhattan resident to know that there are people out there who think this sort of thing. I mean, I know that people say these things, but there’s something weird about to seeing them in writing.
P.P.S. There is further discussion of Sailer’s “affordable family formation” idea here.