The red-state, blue-state war is happening in the upper half of the income distribution

As we said in Red State, Blue State, it’s not the Prius vs. the pickup truck, it’s the Prius vs. the Hummer. Here’s the graph:


Or, as Ross Douthat put it in an op-ed yesterday:

This means that a culture war that’s often seen as a clash between liberal elites and a conservative middle America looks more and more like a conflict within the educated class — pitting Wheaton and Baylor against Brown and Bard, Redeemer Presbyterian Church against the 92nd Street Y, C. S. Lewis devotees against the Philip Pullman fan club.

Our main motivation for doing this work was to change how the news media think about America’s political divisions, and so it’s good to see our ideas getting mainstreamed and moving toward conventional wisdom.

P.S. Here’s the time series of graphs showing how the pattern that we and Douthat noticed, of a battle between coastal states and middle America that is occurring among upper-income Americans, is relatively recent, having arisen in the Clinton years:


If you’re interested in the topic, you’re in luck–we wrote a whole book about it!

9 thoughts on “The red-state, blue-state war is happening in the upper half of the income distribution

  1. This is an intersting observation. The trend becomes more stark if you take into account the fact that low-income Americans tend not to vote.

  2. The popular movie "The Blind Side," for which Sandra Bullock won an Oscar, portrays a red state rich Republican family of the kind that normally doesn't appear much in the national press.

  3. In general, in, say, Mississippi, voting Republican, like going to church, is a sign that you have your act together, that you are not poor white trash. It's a straightforward form of status competition.

    In contrast, in Connecticut, voting Democratic and espousing liberal attitudes is often a more Baroque form of status competition against other people who have their acts together: it shows, for example, that you are so successful that you aren't worried about competition from illegal immigrants (you tend to employ them, not compete with them), that you aren't so marginal that you have to worry about suffering the fate of Frank Ricci due to racial quotas, and so forth.

  4. Mark:

    We don't have any graphs by sex, but we have ethnic breakdowns here (also, there's a long methods article with Yair that will eventually appear).

  5. Region vs. poverty vs. race?

    The three states you chose as exemplars of "rich", "middle class" and "poor" are in very different regions. In MS and other southern states, in particular, there are a huge proportion of Black people, many of whom (by no means all) are poor, and all of whom (rich or poor, I think) voted overwhelmingly for Obama (and for Democrats generally).

    I forget if you showed, in your book, a chart divided by region. It might be interesting to compare, say, CT to ME, which is much poorer. Or MS to AL, which is somewhat wealthier.

    Fascinating stuff

    I think I'll have to re-read the book

  6. although the differences in the probability of voting for McCain at the low income levels are small, there are a lot of people in those income groups. That may be the decisive advantage in the final results.

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