“Like upscale areas everywhere, from Silicon Valley to Chicago’s North Shore to suburban Connecticut, Montgomery County [Maryland] supported the Democratic ticket in last year’s presidential election, by a margin of 63 percent to 34 percent.” — David Brooks, 2001.
Some of the discussions of our red-state, blue-state maps picked up on the differences between where national journalists live (the mid-Atlantic states and California) and other parts of America. The income-voting pattern is different in the red states and the blue states. We have some more thoughts on this (scroll down for the pretty graphs).
David Brooks, the New York Times op-ed columnist and author of Bobos in Paradise and On Paradise Drive, explored the differences between Red and Blue America in an influential article, “One Nation, Slightly Divisible,” in the Atlantic Monthly shortly after the 2000 election. Sometimes described as the liberals’ favorite conservative, Brooks embodies the red-blue division within himself. He has liberal leanings on social issues but understands the enduring appeal of traditional values—“today’s young people seem happy with the frankness of the left and the wholesomeness of the right,” and his economic views are conservative but he sees the need for social cohesion among rich and poor. His Atlantic article compared Montgomery County, Maryland, the liberal, upper-middle-class suburb where he and his friends live, to rural, conservative Franklin County, Pennsylvania, a short drive away but distant in attitudes and values, with “no Starbucks, no Pottery Barn, no Borders or Barnes & Noble,” plenty of churches but not so many Thai restaurants, “a lot fewer sun-dried-tomato concoctions on restaurant menus and a lot more meatloaf platters.
Brooks lives in a liberal, well-off area. It is characteristic of the east and west coasts that the richer areas tend to be more liberal, but in other parts of the country, notably the south, the correlation goes the other way. A comparable journey in Texas would go from Collin County, a suburb of Dallas where George W. Bush received 71% of the vote, to rural Zavala County in the southwest, where Bush received only 25%.
The graph above shows the pattern: Collin and Zavala (the dark circles on the scatterplot) are the richest and poorest counties in Texas, and there is a clear pattern that poor counties supported the Democrats while the Republicans won in middle-class and rich counties.
When we showed this to a political scientist, he asked about the state capital, noted for its liberal attitudes, vibrant alternative rock scene, and the University of Texas: “What about Austin? It must be rich and liberal.” We looked it up. Austin is in Travis County and makes up almost all its population. Travis County has a median household income of $45,000 and gave George W. Bush 53% of the vote, putting it about midway between Collin and Zavala counties in the graph.
By comparison, the next graph shows the counties of Brooks’s home state of Maryland: here there is no clear pattern of county income and Republican vote. We have indicated Montgomery County, the prototypical wealthy slice of Blue America, in bold, and it is not difficult to find poorer, more Republican-supporting counties nearby as comparisons. Rich and poor counties look different in Blue America than in Red America.
We can also look at income and voting for individual voters in each state. In Texas, there is a strong relation between income and voting:
In Maryland, the pattern is much weaker:
And here, by popular demand, is the notorious Kansas:
P.S. Just to be clear, I think Brooks’s observations about cultural differences between red and blue America are interesting and important; you just have to be careful when aligning these with income or wealth.