Rich state, poor state, red-state, blue-state: it’s all about the rich

As we’ve discussed before, the Republican party gets more support from the rich than from the poor, especially in poor states. (In poor states such as Mississipi, rich people are much more Republican than poor people; in rich states such as Connecticut, rich people are only slightly more Republican than the poor.)

Rich voter, poor voter

The next step is to look at time trends. Here we use the National Election Studies pooled into 20-year intervals. First, the difference between rich and poor voters in rich, middle-income, and poor states. As you can see, the gap in voting between rich and poor voters has increased, but especially in the poor states:


I don’t know exactly how this is related, but in the past 25 years, income inequality has actually been increasing faster in the rich states than the poor states.

Rich state, poor state

Next we look at things from the other direction, comparing the voting patterns of rich and poor states, but looking separately at rich, middle-income, and poor voters. As you can see, within each income category, there didn’t used to be any large systematic differences in voting patterns in rich and poor states until recently. Even now, the rich-state, poor-state difference shows up mostly among high-income voters, somewhat among middle-income voters, and not at all among the poor:


Thus, the familiar “red America, blue America” pattern, the “culture war” between red and blue states, is really something happening at the higher range of incomes.

P.S.: whites-only analysis

In response to some of the commenters below, I did an analysis with just whites (88% of the total dataset). Removing the minorities reduces the differences by about half. Here’s the new version of our first picture:


And here’s the second picture:


Among whites, the red-state, blue-state divide is still strongest among the rich but it’s no longer zero for the poor.

11 thoughts on “Rich state, poor state, red-state, blue-state: it’s all about the rich

  1. Typical. Only the rich can afford to indulge in culture wars.

    And who suffers, eh? That's right. The poor people who sell diamond-studded "I'm a Moderate" watches, that's who.


  2. To work toward an explination as to what you are seeing in the data, perhaps exclude California, New York, and perhaps Mass. from your analysis? One might extend that and argue to also knock out Conn. because of the significant number of high income earners that are tied to Manhattan. As your QJPS article indicated – geography matters – and I wonder if you will find that the unique characteristics of New York and California and their emergence as one party states is skewing your results. You amy find that it is really not about "rich states" persay but some unique characteristics of the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and NYC. ;-)

  3. Great point, ziel. I'm also wondering, where are the lines drawn between lower, middle and upper income? And are they drawn the same way across all states? (e.g. is the population of 'high income' voters in poor states significantly smaller than that in rich states, and would that introduce sampling bias?)

  4. Thanks for the comments. This is a big reason why we post on the blog. To respond:


    Yes, the differences diminish by about 50% if you analyze just whites; see the graphs added at the end of the blog entry above.


    A lot of the poorer states are in the south so, yes, much of this is rich southerners, many of whom are white. That's part of our point: that it's the rich rather than the poor who are showing these distinctive voting patterns. That this is correlated with race is interesting but does not diminish its importance, I think.


    If you restrict the analysis to just men or just women, you get similar results as above. Not identical but not dramatically different.


    The boundaries are approximate terciles (0-33rd, 33-67th, 67-100th percentiles) of household income, based on national percentiles. So, yes, there are more high-income voters in rich states and more low-income voters in poor states. We discuss this a bit in our article.

  5. Interesting, would levels of religious belief account for the difference? A born-again Texas shopping mall owner and a liberal Protestant Massachusetts software company owner really do live in culturally different worlds? Whereas the poor, religion and region notwithstanding, do live in more similar ways?

  6. Wouldn't it make sense to combine all these factors together and run a logistic regression analysis or a probit analysis? Then we could determine the independent effect of the different variables on likelihood to vote R or D.

  7. I can think of several cultural factors. The Radical Right-controlled Republican Party uses the language of evangelical Protestantism, which turns off mainstream Protestants, Catholics and Jews, even when other aspects of its conservative platform (including some cultural issues) might appeal to those at higher income levels; they fear the country is returning to its nativist Ku Klux Klan days of the 1920s (note that pockets of evangelicals in the blue states tend to react like those in the red states). Secondly, the well to do in blue states tend to be very isolated from contact with racial minorities, and therefore their racial prejudices, while there, tend not to influence their voting. In the Southern red states, most whites until the last generation lived in rural and small town areas where blacks and whites live cheek by jowl and extremely strong racist codes are part of every white child's enculturation; even though the large cities have boomed in the last generation, much of the white population started in these rural communities. The combination of these two factors would make the Southern well to do very susceptible to Right-wing propaganda. If it is true, one might predict a shift away from the differences from the rest of the country during the next generation or so.

  8. The rich may be different types of voters in different states. In poor states, they are likely heavy in small business owners, while the rich states will have more academics, professionals, etc.


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