Sunday :: Apr 17, 2005

Wealth and Voting: No Real Surprise

by eriposte

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution (via Brad DeLong) says:

Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science is one of my favorite new blogs. It is primarily written by Andrew Gelman, a professor in the Departments of Statistics and Political Science at Columbia University.

A recent post looks at the difference between red and blue states and red and blue individuals. We all know that in the recent election poorer states tended to vote Republican while richer states tended to vote Democrat. On the basis of the famous maps many people jumped to the conclusion that poorer individuals were voting Republican (Nascar Republicans) while richer individuals were voting Democrat (trust fund Democrats). But the inference is a fallacy, the ecological fallacy. In fact, high-income individuals, as opposed to high-income states, vote Republican with greater likelihood than low-income individuals (the effect is not huge and it may be declining but it is significant).

It's even true that rich counties tend to vote Republican with greater likelihood than poorer counties. Gelman links to this graph which nicely illustrates the ecological fallacy....

Andrew Gelman's post starts with this:

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).

The first sentence is no surprise, at least to me, because one of the things I pointed out when I first looked at this issue and demonstrated how Democratic-leaning states (which tend to be economically stronger overall) subsidize Republican-leaning states, is that the general argument applied to states (and not individuals). At that time I had not analyzed the wealth v. voting patterns at the individual level.

Secondly, Chris Bowers at MyDD already pointed out last year, what Gelman has shown now with more detailed number crunching. As Chris said:

The clear correllation is that the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to vote for Bush. the poorer you are, the more likely you are to vote for Kerry. If, after seeing this, you still buy into the lie that the tax dollars of Kerry voters are overfunding Bush voters, you are both blind and have bought into the idea that thee is a liberal elite running the country.

What Chris missed though is this, which I pointed out in my response to his post:

Your analysis misses a key point. The point really is NOT that tax dollars of wealthy liberals in blue states is going to conservatives in red states. The real point is that many states that are rich because of their past history of sound economic and social policies are subsidizing other states that are poor because of their past history of unsound economic and social policies. This is not about individual groups. This is about what kind of policies are right for the states and for the country.

The supply-side tax cutting policy loved by the charlatans in the media and the Bush admin has been tried already in many states. This kind of policy is what is partly responsible for the condition that states like Alabama face. Whether or not liberals in the blue states are rich misses the point. The point is that liberals - being a majority - have voted people into power that have made the states' citizens richer overall. This includes the conservatives in those states.

The utter irony of this whole system is conservatives in blue states clamor for economic systems that have been shown to be relative failures (from a wealth creation standpoint) in many of the red states. Not to mention that liberals in blue states are supporting an ideology that significantly enriches conservatives in their own states.

Another minor point. In the abstract of his paper, Gelman says:

...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.

Now, this is a matter of semantics but this last sentence is perhaps too strong a statement and can be somewhat (unintentionally) misleading if one is not careful. The term "represent poorer voters" can sometimes be interpreted as referring to states, because most discussions on politics tend to be around states - and Republicans do get support overall from poorer states (which because of their overall lower wealth than the richer blue-trending states, are comprised of poorer voters overall). But as I said this is a minor point.


eriposte :: 4:18 PM :: Comments (6) :: Digg It!