Another look at US voters

12/09/2012 § Leave a comment

John Quiggin posted on Crooked Timber an analysis of some voter data that he got from Andrew Gelman (who wrote Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do).

Quiggin is puzzling over what ‘white working class’ means in US terms, and why this ‘class’ tends to vote Republican. The solution, in part, is the ‘working class’ is defined for political polling in both income and education terms. As a result, small business owners who didn’t go to university are ‘working class’, regardless of income. The Republican economic perspective resonates with such voters: with hard work, you can pull yourself up, and you shouldn’t be penalised for being successful.

What isn’t part of Quiggin’s analysis is the multi-dimensional nature of the conflict between the Republicans and the Democrats. First, recall the median voter theory: in a first-past-the-post system, all a party needs is 50% + 1 to win. Given that it is difficult to aggregate preferences (Arrow’s impossibility theorem), a party platform should concede only enough to get the median voter and no more. The lesson I took from Bush v Gore is that the theory does operate, even in such an indirect way as voter –> Electoral College –> Supreme Court.

The culture war in the US is real. There is a real divide between social conservatives and liberals. It didn’t start with Clinton’s sex-capades, or Ralph Reed or Ronald Reagan, or even the Summer of Love. George Wallace’s ‘segregation forever’ line is from a 1963 speech, and he was reflecting a history going back decades (centuries?).

The Republicans are trying to appeal to enough voters in enough ways to get them over that median-voter hump. Sometimes, that appeal is economic: we’ll let you keep your hard-earned dollars. Sometimes, that appeal is social or culture: those people aren’t like us. If the cultural appeal brings them in, there’s no point in giving them money, too.

This income/education effect is quite interesting, so it’s worth clicking over to read Quiggin’s whole post.

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