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Back and forth with David Frum on income inequality and voting

David Frum responded at his blog to my graph-laden comments on his New York Times article.

Frum emphasizes the difference between looking at county-level inequality as compared to state-level inequality. He also makes the point that inequality (at the state and county level) is often associated with big cities. Interesting stuff.

Frum also mentions Missouri, which is one of the states where richer counties favor the Democrats. Richer counties also lean Democratic in Nebraska, and most of the western and northeastern states (see pages 68-70 of the book), but in Indiana, South Dakota, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and most of the South, it goes the other way, with richer counties being more Republican. (I showed this in the map of Texas in my previous blog entry.) The patterns really do look different in different parts of the country, and Missouri is not like Texas in this respect. In any case, I haven’t crunched the numbers on county-level inequality, and I agree with Frum that the patterns within a state can differ from those between states. Individually, richer Americans still lean Republican, but location matters a lot also.


  1. Eric says:

    Richer counties lean Democratic in Nebraska? The 2 richest counties in Nebraska are Lancaster and Douglas counties. They may have more Democrats than most other counties, by percentage, in Nebraska, but Democrats are outnumbered by Republicans in both of those counties.

    One of the poorest counties in Nebraska, (and the nation), Thurston County, has more Democrats registered than Republicans.

    On a precinct level, my preliminary look tells me that the poorest precincts are Democratic and the richest precincts are Republican, at least in Lancaster County, NE. These numbers are likely similar when looking at Census Block and even Tract data.

    The Republicans, for example, have won presidential races in Lancaster in every race since 1996.

    So, no, rich counties (of which there are a total of 2 in NE) do not lean Democratic.


  2. Andrew says:


    What I meant to say is that rich counties in Nebraska lean Democratic, compared to poor counties in Nebraska.

  3. Eric says:

    I kind of figured that's what you meant, sorry to jump on you there.

  4. John Thacker says:

    In any case, I haven't crunched the numbers on county-level inequality, and I agree with Frum that the patterns within a state can differ from those between states.

    Right. It's not an implausible claim that increasing inequality could make a state or city more Democratic not by making the wealthy vote Democratic, but by making the middle class more likely to do so. Part of that is all the considerations of cost of living, which a county being wealthy has some effect on.

    If a household makes $80k/year in an area where single-family houses are going for $600k, that household may be fairly well-off measured nationally, middle-class for the state, and poor for the locale. That household may likely feel poorer than one making $50k/year in an area where an equivalent home goes for $150k.

  5. Jesse says:

    Sorry, I know the election is well over with, but this is far from a dead issue. The problem is looking at inequality as only a geographically relevant measure, when across geographical lines there are so many race, gender, and legal variables involved in correlating inequality and voting habits. I remember reading Frum's article last fall, but it struck me as a classical stats fallacy that he tried to connect democratic voting habits in areas of high inequality as the cause, not the effect, of that inequality. Simply reducing all measures to merely geographical points of analysis is itself gerrymandering the issue along ideological lines; which is ironic when the underlying interest is to explain those polarities, rather than to simply reinforce them. Princeton has a paper posted on their website which fleshes voting polarity and inequality in further detail: "Political Polarization and Income Inequality". Coincidentally, today several congressional reports were leaked on wikileak, one of which pertains to income inequality–they can be viewed a Fabius Maximus' blog.