It’s the Poor, Stupid

Red State Blue State Rich State Poor StateI just read Andrew Gelman’s excellent Red State Blue State Rich State Poor State. You have to like statistics, because it’s kind of a dry read. But the data! I can boil down the information in the book in one surprising sentence, “Rich vote Republican, poor vote Democrat, and this divide is most extreme in red states.” Knowing this makes me happy and changes the way I look at politics on the whole.

It makes me happy to know that the poor in Mississippi are not deluded dolts who vote against their best interests. And I feel we share a common cause. Increasingly, I am annoyed by the lack of coverage of this fact and the lack of general reporting that is informed by it.

This morning on Up with Chris Hayes, there was a lot of talk about minority voting—especially Latino voters. Avik Roy, of course, was on the panel to act as an apologist for the Republican Party. And at one point, Lorella Pareli pandered to him by noting that Latinos were church going people and that they were naturally a Republican constituency. Chris Hayes countered her on this point by noting the opinion polls that show that Latinos really do share opinions that put them firmly in the Democratic coalition.

The problem I find with all of this is that we ought to stop even talking about race when it comes to voting paterns. Yes, the Republicans are a racist party. Yes, there is a great deal of racism in this country and we need to do something about it. But if explicit racism disappeared and Republicans stopped being explicitly racist, minority voters would still not rush to vote for them. Minority voters are poor. They vote the way poor people vote. They vote Democratic.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about the Republican meme that they are not for equality of outcomes but rather equality of opportunity. This is the biggest load of horseshit I have ever heard. Even if all children went to the same schools and did not inherit any property from their parents, rich children would be at a distinct advantage over poor children. There are so many ways that this is manifested, but let me give you one example: Solamere Capital. This is Tagg Romney’s venture capital company. Would a poor child have the necessary contacts to start that? No.

It’s a real hoot that the Fox News crowd have been screaming that the poor vote for people who will give them stuff. As a factual matter this is not true because the rich get more “free stuff” than the poor. See, for example, the 2008 financial crisis. But as Red State Blue State Rich State Poor State makes plan: all voter categories vote for politicians who will give them what they want. Whether that “stuff” is unemployment insurance or a low marginal tax rate doesn’t much matter.

What the Fox News crew are worried about is that the poor really will become as selfish as the rich always have been. And they should be. Republican policies have greatly expanded the numbers of poor. And if those poor get organized, things could be very bad for the Republican Party and even the “New” Democratic Party. Obama won this election 51%-48%. But of those qualified to vote who did not, Obama was the preferred candidate 54%-38%. The Democratic Party has policies that the vast majority of Americans agree with. The Republican Party does not.


Here is the most important graph from Red State Blue State Rich State Poor State. This is from the 2004 election. Red are states where Bush won and blue are states where Kerry won. Note that Kerry won in Mississippi with the poor:

2004 Voting by Income Group

Update (21 November 2012 2:12 pm)

I don’t like Chris Matthews. When MSNBC was conservative, he was conservative. Now that they are liberal, he is liberal. But he has nonetheless been making a lot of sense recently. He just had a big debate on his show about what is wrong with the Republican Party. His conclusion: it’s the policies, stupid.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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