It has been in recent decades that a large number of states have been reliably blue or red in presidential elections. On average, blue states are much richer than red states, but rich people usually vote republican and poor people usually vote democratic. So how is that wealthy states vote for the democrats if the republicans represent the rich and democrats traditionally represent the poor?
Here lies that paradox that Gelman addresses in Red state Blue State Rich state Poor State in which he discusses why Americans vote the way they do and what leads to such a paradox. In response to the paradox, rich people in rich states are voting based on their views on social and cultural issues rather than on their economic interests. They have become more liberal than rich people in poor states, leading them to vote democratic.
Because of democrats’ liberal views and their concentration in New England and the West Coast, rich conservative republicans have remained in the south, in poor states thus the vast difference in the amount of blue and red states which have set up “a national map that is divided by culture rather class, with blue-collar West Virginia moving from solidly democratic to safely Republican and suburban Connecticut going the other way”. Income, one of the major factors influencing how people vote has is no longer the sole factor and other factors have become key in influencing how Americans vote.
States differ in many ways both socially and economically. Now political differences among states are driven by cultural issues, but within the states there still exists traditional rich-poor divisions. The factors that influence state voting behavior include income, race, media, religion, and education. Income is one of the main factors influencing voting behavior, where the rich vote republican and poor vote democratically. However, many rich have started to vote democratically and this has been the trend in past elections.
The income difference between voters of both parties has persisted for decades and continues to do so, making drastic changes along the way. Gelman suggests that “patterns of support for the two parties have shifted, even reversing in some places, with California, New Jersey, and New England moving from the republican to the Democratic column and the southern states decisively going in the other direction”. Part of the reason for the change in inclinations towards parties is the geography of the states.
It has become “characteristic of the Northeast and West Coast that the richer areas tend to be more liberal, but in other parts of the country, notably the South, richer areas tend to be more conservative”. For decades, one would assume and still assumes that the Democratic Party represented the lower classes and average citizens. The Democratic Party has in its best interest the economic interests of the poor and middle class, and in a 2006 poll, 66% of respondents agreed with this notion. However, according to Gelman, they fail to realize that the Democrats are actually looking out for the elites rather than the masses.
This is why voting patterns have been changing. Mississippi and Alabama are low income states, and the rich people there are far likelier to have voted for Bush, but in New York and California who are much richer, individual votes weren’t dependent so much on income. As far as who votes for who in recent presidential elections, Gelman says that most of the country’s poor has voted for Democrats and they also have the support of the middle class in the West Coast, Northeast and some of the Midwest. The rich who vote for Democrats are those in California, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
In contrast, the rich in most of the country, the middle class of some states, and lower income voters in few states vote republican. Gelman says that “democrats do well in the richest, highly urban states and among the rich voters in these states, but Republicans are getting the support of rich voters elsewhere”. When it comes to national politics, “it is the middle and upper income voters who drive the political culture war, and it is in this upper stratum of society where rich states and poor states have their political differences”.
In regards to political preference, there isn’t much difference between the rich and poor in rich states, and the opposite is true in poor states. This is due to race. Mississippi is a poor southern state where the divide between the rich and the poor coincides with a racial divide leading to a vast difference in voting patterns. Race is another factor affecting voting behavior. Religion plays as well where the rich in poor states are more religious than the poor and in rich states; the poor are more religious than the rich.
Gelman writes that “religion is a key step in our understanding of political differences between rich and poor”. Gelman found that “a key difference between red states and blue states is in the people within each state who have liberal and conservative attitudes. On social issues rich people tend to be more conservative than poor people in rich states, but in blue states, the opposite is true”. The cultural differences between states lead to polarization “economically between the rich and poor, and culturally between upper income Americans in red and blue areas”.
The polarization occurs because of the misperceptions among Americans about the economic status on different groups. In a survey in a Washington Post report, Americans overestimated the percentage of different racial and ethnic groups in the country. A majority of white Americans also believed that blacks were faring well or better than an average white person in jobs, education and healthcare. But instead, it is whites who are better off, earning “60 percent or more than blacks” and “are far more likely to have medical insurance and more than twice as likely to graduate from college”.
As voters become more secure, cultural issues become more important. The relationship between cultural differences among states and economics exists because of the differences among the rich in red and blue states. The differences occur “in terms cultural values of upper middle class and rich voters”. This doesn’t occur so much among the poor voters because the “are more localized, generally travel less, are more likely to have local accents, and are less likely to know people in other parts of the country”.
All in all, Gelman found three striking patterns which are; first, those is rich states support the democrats and the rich voters tend to support republicans, second, “the slope within in a state, the pattern that richer voters support the Republicans is strongest in poor, rural, Republican leaning red states and weakest in rich, urban blue states”, third, “the systematic differences between rich and poor states have largely arisen in the past twenty years”. In the past presidential elections, republicans and democrats have consistently won their particular red and blue states.
The consistency will continue because over the past elections it seems like it has been established and the same group of red states maintains voting republican and blue states maintain voting democratically. However, who’s to say that high income voters will not shift back to being republican one day as they once shifted from republican to democrats on social and cultural issues.
Gelman, Andrew. 2008. Red state Blue state Rich state Poor state. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press