Red, blue, rich, poor

Meant to post this a while back, but it’s a terrific post by Andrew Gelman, who’s book, Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State, offers the most accurate way for understanding the red/blue state divide in America: short version– it’s all about the rich people.  Anyway, Gelman applies his earlier findings to explaining the 2012 results. It’s a really useful and important way for understanding the way partisan polarization in the US actually plays out at the state level:

As in previous elections, richer voters leaned Republican while lower-income voters came out strong as Democrats.

Fig. 1Fig. 1

But there’s much more to this story. The maps we have made show that the election was not just about red and blue states. What’s actually going on is that the division between red and blue America is mostly about a split among richer voters.

To picture this, imagine two alternative universes for the 2012 election. In the first, only individuals making less than $50,000 a year can vote; in the second, only those making more than $100,000 a year can. Based on exit polls from Election Day, we have a decent idea of how these scenarios would play out.

In the first universe, Barack Obama wins in a 1984-style landslide, with a near sweep of the Electoral College and around 60 percent of the popular vote.

 In the second universe, Mitt Romney wins with a healthy 54 percent of the popular vote. Though he still carries the red states, a landslide remains out of his grasp — wealthy voters in blue states like New York and California still support Obama by comfortable margins. We’ll come back to this thought in a moment.

Remarkably, this same pattern has occurred in every presidential contest over the past twenty years. Lower-income voters consistently support the Democratic candidate in nearly every state. Upper-income voters, on the other hand, are more mixed in their political views: wealthy voters in Mississippi are strongly Republican while wealthy voters in Massachusetts are strongly Democratic. Extensive analyses of survey information from these elections show that this relationship holds even when controlling for age, race, sex and education.

In other words, contrary to what you have heard, there’s only a strong red America-blue America split toward the top of the income distribution. Toward the bottom, the electoral map is a sea of blue.  [emphasis mine]

Lots more cool maps and analysis to go along at the site, but for now, just remembering this basic lesson puts you ahead of 99% of America’s professional pundits.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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