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Welcome back Gauchoans, and Happy New Year! 2012 is destined to be a doozy. Not only will it be the final year of our lives, but in November we will decide who the final president of the United States will be, to bravely lead us into the Armageddon and our impending doom.
Ah yes, election year in America, when the slightly irritating, yet somewhat humorous “Jumbaco” Jack in the Box commercials will be replaced by a barrage of hours upon hours of incredibly irritating political attack ads. Yet while the ads air all the candidates’ dirty laundry and scrutinize their political positions in an effort to sway undecided voters, some of the most important factors that decide who will vote for who on Nov. 6 aren’t political at all. To a large degree, whom you will vote for this year has already been decided based on where you live, what your income is and how religious you are.
If you’ve ever happened to turn on CNN or Fox (accidently, of course), during a national election, you have undoubtedly seen the famous “Red State, Blue State” map that shows the Southern and Midwestern states colored red (Republican) and the Northern and Western coastal states colored blue (Democrat). But why is it that the richer, Starbucks latte-sipping Northern and Western states vote Democrat while the poorer, NASCAR-loving, Southern and Midwestern states vote Republican? In a political science study entitled “Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State,” Andrew Gelman explores the seemingly paradoxical situation that while rich states vote Democrat, rich Americans tend to vote Republican.
A poor, Republican state can be defined as a state where people have lower average incomes, and also (somewhat ironically) receive more money from the federal government than they contribute; rich, Democrat-voting states contribute more than they receive. These realities would seemingly fly in the face of conventional political wisdom. Why would poor, Republican states with lower average incomes vote to cut taxes for millionaires, and rich, Democrat-voting states with higher average incomes vote to support social welfare programs that disproportionately support the poor Republican states? At face value it would seem that the rich states and poor states are in fact voting against their own interests.
In fact, poor people, regardless of what state they live in, vote Democrat. During the 2008 election, the blue-state poor voted Democrat 75 percent of the time, and the red-state poor voted Democrat at over 60 percent. If it were only low-income people voting in elections, the Democrats would win in a landslide every time. The big difference in the way that red and blue states vote is actually due primarily to the difference in how their upper-class citizens vote. In blue states, 60 percent of the wealthy voted for Obama in 2008. However, the wealthy in red states choose McCain by an overwhelming 75-percent margin! So why is there a huge discrepancy among rich voters in blue and red states? Gelman finds that religion is key to the answer. In 2004, wealthy voters who attended church more than once a week voted for Bush over 70 percent of the time, while only 40 percent of wealthy non-church goers picked Bush. Even in Democrat-voting blue states, wealthy, regular churchgoers picked Bush over Kerry almost 60 percent of the time.
Gelman shows in his study that poor people vote Democrat regardless of the state they live in, while the wealthy in red states (who tend to be very religious) overwhelmingly vote Republican and the wealthy in blue states (who are less religious), tend to vote more Democrat. However, an important piece of the puzzle is still missing. In America there are far more poor people than rich people, so one would not expect the upper-class citizenry to be the deciding factor on how states vote. Given that in poor Republican states, poor, Democrat-leaning people make up a much larger percentage of the population than the rich, religious, conservative people, it is surprising that the Republicans can still dominate the way they do. Here is where voter turnout comes into play, and why Republicans hate “get out the vote” campaigns so vehemently.
According to the U.S. Census, in 2008 only 41 percent of those making $15,000 or less voted in the presidential election, compared with almost 80 percent of those making $150,000 or more per year. And yet despite these low turnout rates for low-income voters, Obama’s election was helped in large part by an influx of new low-income voters. According to projectvote.org, very low-income voters surged in 2008, making up 34 percent of all new voters in the election. The effect of higher turnout rates helping Obama is especially obvious if you look at some of the key battleground states that he won. For example, in Virginia and North Carolina, states that had gone to Bush in both 2000 and 2004, Obama’s victory was undoubtedly helped by a 6-percent and 8-percent increase in voter turnout, respectively. That’s a big swing, and a swing that was most likely caused by getting the poor, Democrat-leaning population to the polls in higher numbers than usual.
So while we all are forced to sit through hours of annoying political ads this year, debating whether President Obama or President Romney should give that somber Address to the Nation announcing the end of the world, the vast majority of the nation has already made up its mind on who it will vote for, so please, just spare us the torture! I mean, c’mon, it’s the last year of our lives, and many of us (especially us evil blue-state secularists) are undoubtedly burning in hell for eternity as it is.
Daily Nexus columnist Riley Schenck finds you painfully predictable.