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!

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

  1. Benjamin Geer December 8, 2010 at 6:31 am #

    I haven’t read your book, but if you’re claiming that the battle for votes is happening in the upper half of the income distribution, the graphs above seem to suggest the opposite. The first graph suggests that low-income voters, in all three states, don’t have a strong party preference and could vote either way. In contrast, the graph suggests that there’s not much chance of the Republican party winning over wealthy Connecticut voters, or of the Democratic party winning over wealthy Mississippi voters. Assuming that parties would rather campaign for votes that they have some chance of obtaining, we would expect the electoral war to be a war over the votes of lower-income voters; it would happen in the lower half of the income distribution, not in the upper half as you suggest.

  2. Joel December 8, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    Sorry, as I’m sure this is covered in the book (which I really will read … ), but:

    In using Mississippi as a “poor” state, are you able to separate out the effects of its also being a southern state (appropro of the Kenworthy post)?

  3. Andrew Gelman December 8, 2010 at 2:13 pm #


    What I’m claiming is that the differences between “red states” and “blue states” are concentrated in the upper half of the income distribution.

    I’m not saying that low-income voters are predictable; I’m saying that low-income voters in “red states” aren’t so different from low-income voters in “blue states.”

  4. Adam December 8, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    I haven’t read your book since the month it came out, so forgive me if you have an obvious answer.

    How much variance among poor voters is potentially masked by not controlling for race?

  5. Leevan Banzuelo December 9, 2010 at 1:51 am #

    What conclusion can be conferred from this?

  6. Andrew Gelman December 9, 2010 at 8:59 am #

    Adam: The differences we see are reduced by about half when we look at white voters alone.