September 20th, 2012
by Gavin Kakol, GEI Associate,
Many Americans have come to view the Republicans as a party who will keep the interests of the wealthy; the Democratic Party on the other hand, is looked to as a haven for the lower class. Middle income Americans are left to decide which party they deem favors their best interests. With those expectations in mind, why do some of the most impoverished states consistently vote Republican, and why do many of the least endowed people refrain from voting altogether?
According to a recent release of the Gallop basic access index, Republicans have a slight edge on wealth over Democratic and Independent voters. The basic index includes 13 factors that go into an individual’s overall wellbeing such as healthcare and shelter.
Referencing Republicans, the poll concluded Democrats and Independents struggled to pay for healthcare 5.7 and 7.3 percent more than Republicans, respectively. An even wider gap is observed when affording food, which the Republicans lead 7.3 and 8.7 percent over Democrats and Independents.
Gallup undertook another poll during the first six months of 2012, which looked into the percentage of Americans per state who could not afford food. The results were startling, in 15 states, one in five Americans struggled to put food on the table. Nationwide 18.2 percent of Americans polled had trouble affording food during some point in the last year.
Gallop has identified 17 states as “high range” or 19.6 percent or more of the population claiming they have had trouble affording food. The majority of them are southern states with the exception of Alaska, Delaware, and West Virginia. Of these, only five have any sort of Democratic lead going into the upcoming election.
This trend correlates to a national tendency of voting behavior, in which wealthier states vote Democratic and lower income states vote Republican. According to Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics and political science at Columbia University, on a national average wealthier citizens vote conservative, but in Democratic strongholds such as Connecticut, the wealthy often vote liberal.
This phenomenon doesn't at all seem to follow our common interpretations of what the two major parties stand for - at least not at first glance. However, with further analysis aided by multilevel modeling of survey data numerous possibilities have been examined.
Gelman credits Post Materialism for the relation of poor states voting Republican and rich states voting Democratic.
"Poor people vote based on economics, rich people have the luxury to vote on social issues"
Andrew Gelman most effectively explains post materialism by interpreting the results of the 2004 presidential election of George Bush and John Kerry. By plotting income in relation to the probability of voting Republican, Gelman is able to show that religion positively correlates to voting "red" as income rises. The exceptions lie with respondents who never attend church- they continued to vote "blue" as income increased.
The results conclude that lower income Americans vote in favor of their economic position (favoring Democrats). With increases in income, voters can afford to follow social issues.
Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the Union, Connecticut is consistently one of the wealthiest and Ohio falls in between. Likewise, Mississippi is Republican stronghold, Connecticut is even more Democratic and Ohio is a toss-up.
The lower income level within the three states votes consistently in favor of the Democrats. As income rises its clear which states follow conservative social ideologies.
What this illustrates is that the most recent elections have not been decided by the poor; their results has been derived from who middle and upper America find to be the most suitable candidate to represent their social obligations.
Gilman further notes that inequality may be acting as a mechanism for the very wealthiest of the wealthy to skew the media viewed by the majority (including the deciding middle class) and "change the rules of the game" via campaign contributions.
Perhaps part of the reason poor states ignore their own self-interests, as we may presume looking over this data, is because their lower income citizens fail to vote. Using 2008 election data taken by the US Census Bureau a clear disparity is seen at the polls for every income group earning less than $50,000 annually.
The national average percentage of the vote per income level was 65.5 percent; lower incomes all fell below this mark. Every income group exceeding $50,000 annually surpassed the national average. Income earners who exceed $100,000 of family income annually had the highest percentage of their eligible population vote. These are the voters who in previous analysis showed to have the greatest social dynamic when voting.
The table above is an excerpt of census data relating to the likelihood of the 2008 eligible population to vote in the general election. Notice the likelihood of voting increases as income rises. Eligible voters making over $75000 annually were 2.1 more likely to vote then eligible citizens making under $25000 annually.
Additional wealth indicators such as home ownership and employment seemed to have a positive effect on voter turnout. Eligible to vote homeowners were 14 percentage points more likely to vote than renters. Likewise the employed were eight percent more likely to participate than the unemployed.
Despite society's view of the Democratic party residing favorably with the lower income socio-demographic, poor states vote in favor of Republican candidates. Perhaps it is a matter of social standards that accompany each party, especially with the southern vote; or instead it could be the overall lack of participation from lower earning eligible citizens. The upcoming election is sure to offer new data for followup studies, but what is evident is the next election will be decided by more than just economic interests.
- One in Four Mississippi Residents Struggle to Afford Food (Allysa Brown, Gallup, 21 August 2012)
- Republicans Have Greater Access to Basic Necessities (Dan Witters, Gallup, 30 August 2012)
- Heavily Democratic States Are Concentrated in the East (Lydia Saad, Gallup, 3 August 2012)
- Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2008 (Thom File, Sarah Crissey, U.S. Census Bureau, July 2012)
- Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State (Andrew Gelman, 2012)
- The Opiate of the Elites (Andrew Gelman,VOX, David Park, Boris Shor, Jeronimo Cortina, 21 April 2008)
- Economic Divisions and Polarization in Red and Blue America (Andrew Gelman, 2009)