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Voting patterns by state among the poor, middle class, and rich

Playing around a bit with the income-voting data (see here for a couple pictures and links to our paper, or here for an example of journalistic confusion, or here for lots more), we made the following maps, which show our estimates of what would have happened in the 2000 election if they had only counted the votes of people in different income categories:

rb by income.png

The left column of maps above shows our estimate of the states supporting Bush and Gore based on the voters in each of 5 income categories. The most striking pattern is that, unsurprisingly, Gore does better if the vote is restricted to lower-income voters, and Bush does better at the high end.

The next pattern–which I think is really cool–is that the “red state, blue state” pattern of the coasts vs. the south and center of the country basically disappears for the poorest voters. At that extreme, it’s just not true that the rich states support Gore and the poor states support Bush. For rich voters, however, the pattern is clear: Gore wins in California and a few rich northeastern states, and Bush wins the rest. These graphs dramatize that the “red and blue state” patterns are most relevant for the richest voters.

The column of graphs on the right shows which states support Bush and Gore more than the national average within eachincome category. Again, the pattern for the richest states is similar to the national map (with the Pacific coast and northeast/upper-midwest being blue), but with the states showing a different pattern at the low incomes.

Just to be clear: I’m not claiming that these patterns are, or should be, some kind of surprise. Rather, I’m pointing out that many of the familiar distinctions between red and blue states are most relevant for the richest voters. It doesn’t have to be this way, and I don’t think it was that way before 1992, but this is what we’re seeing now, and it’s a way to understand the pattern that we discussed in our paper, that income is more predictive of Republican vote in poor states than in rich states.

8 Comments

  1. Boris S. says:

    Cool, but I think column 2 is still a little confusing and needs more explanation.

  2. Barry Burden says:

    In your analyses of the relationship between income and vote choice, have you controlled for the cost of living in each state? There are some state-level cost of living measures available. Without doing so you have to assume that a $40,000 salary is equivalent in New York and Mississippi. It just strikes me that the highest cost of living states (primarily on the coasts) are also the most reliably Democratic.

  3. jd says:

    this is a good idea but it looks a bit like a page out of "how to lie with maps." Since the midwest is so big geographically and so small in population the eye just sees a lot of red or blue but it does not tell us which party would actually win. A break out of percentages would be very useful… as would an explanation of column 2.

  4. Tom says:

    Seems to me that this counterfactual is much too far away from the data to say anything meaningful about it (SUTVA assumption). If only the poor would have been allowed to vote the entire election dynamic would have been different.

  5. Andrew says:

    Boris, Jd:

    Yeah, yeah, sure.

    Barry:

    Cost of living has gotta be very highly correlated with income, so I don't know if you could distingush these as state-level predictors. (Also I don't think we have Alaska and Hawaii in our model.) My quick thought is that the differences between rich, middle, and poor are enough larger than the differences in cost of living that this won't matter much, but I agree it's an issue.

    Tom:

    I phrased this as a counterfactual for convenience, but the real point of these graphs was to dramatize the different patterns in state-to-state variation among voters of different income groups, in particular the way that the familar red-state, blue-state pattern is clearest among the rich. I wasn't trying to make any claims about what would happen if only a subset of people actually voted. To clarify, I've changed the title of the entry (from "What if only the poor (or the rich) were to vote?").

  6. Barry says:

    I was thinking of computing income relative to cost of living rather than including cost of living as a separate variable. Berry et al. have constructed a ready-use-measure.

  7. Peter says:

    Very cool!

    But could you make the graphs shades of purple by vote percentage?

    (It would also be nice to have an inset of the small states in the Northeast, which are hard to distinguish).

    This is such a good blog!

  8. tom says:

    don't people always think they more rich than they actually are?