War is Peace - Freedom is Slavery - Ignorance is Strength

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Show Me The Money

Generally speaking, I try to limit my posts to wild speculation, totally unfounded rumor, prejudicial observation, and drunken rambling. But every once in a while even I give in, and am forced to actually create a hypothesis, do some research, analyze the facts, and draw well founded conclusions. You know, like, the Scientific Method.

In this case, I decided to investigate whether or not there is a correlation between how much money people have, and how they vote. The "conventional wisdom" on this question is, to state it grossly, that rich people vote Republican, and poor people vote Democrat, and that was the hypothesis that I set out to test.

My first task in carrying out this test, was to chose indicating criteria for how people vote, and how much money they have. In order to make this as simple as possible, I chose to use the 2000 Presidential election as an indicator of voting habits, and Median Household Income as an indicator of how much money each voter group had. Both of these indicators are extremely broad, and so, any conclusions based upon them really need to be tested further in order to verify their veracity.

So what does the data show?

I'm gonna bust this mojo on you Perry Mason style, starting with Exhibit A, and Exhibit B.

Voting Results from 2000 Presidential Election

Deviation From National Average in Mean Household Income 1999

Notice any similarities?

Exhibit A shows, in typical red/blue fashion, states that went for Bush (red) and Gore (blue) in the 2000 presidential election. Exhibit B shows states with a Median Household Income above the national average in Green, and states with Median Household Income below the national average in Red.

This is about the point where the "conventional wisdom" breaks down in tears on the stand and confesses that it was guilty of being wrong all along. I guess the "conventional wisdom" better get ready for some hard time in the booty house, because its chances on appeal aren't looking too good.

What I found was that in 39 of the 50 states, and the District of Columbia, a median household income below the national average indicated a majority, or plurality for Bush, or a median household income above the national average indicated a majority or plurality for Gore.

It should be noted that because 2000 was a three way race, the absence of Nader in the election would have probably led to Gore winning Florida, which has a median household income below the national average. It should also be noted that the District of Columbia is an urban metropolitan area, not a state, and so, even though it has electoral votes, it is very different from the other states in terms of the makeup of its population. Likewise, Alaska and Hawaii have unique features that make them quite different from the continental states. Those exceptions aside, let's move on, and try to sort out what this relationship between income, and voting preference actually means.

Firstly it should be said that there is clearly no causal relationship between these two indicators. Or, to put it plainly, voting Democratic will not give families in your state a disproportionately higher income. The reason I say this is simple, most of the poorest states in the union (those in the deep south) voted consistently Democrat up until 50 years ago, and they were just as poor then as they are now.

But, what if we step outside of our society's shifting mores for a moment, and ignore the various changes that have occurred over the years in the ideologies of our nation's leading parties, and consider states on the basis of whether or not they have mostly supported progressive or conservative political ideologies. In this case, the model of progressive political ideology leading to an increase in median income for the residents of a state would seem to be a better fit. This most certainly cannot proved by the data that I have looked at, but it is possible that it could explain my data.

My theory would go a little something like this:

Conservative ideology is basically devoted to maintaining a system where an elite class holds a disproportionate share of the money and power, while a vast poor underclass is subservient to it. Progressive ideology is centered around the idea that freedom and equality for everyone is the true goal of a healthy society. Thus, progressive political action would seek to reduce the disparity in income between rich and poor, while conservative political action would seek to increase that disparity.

I make the assumption that large disparities in the distribution of income will affect the overall prosperity of a social group. My reasoning is that, if a few people are very rich, then by definition, a great many people must be poor. The most reasonable explanation for why this situation would occur is that the few rich are receiving a greater share of their society's wealth than they deserve, and the many poor are not receiving the share of their society's wealth that they deserve. If this happens, the link between work and reward (which is essential for a labor market to function) is broken, and so the many poor - who perform most of the labor - will work less, because they know that they will not be fairly compensated for their work, and as a result, overall prosperity is decreased. It is also likely that this income disparity, and lack of fairness in the distribution of wealth, would decrease the incentives for an individual to pursue higher education, and increase the incentives for an individual to engage in criminal activity.

The most extreme example of the above would be a society where most of the labor is performed by slaves, while a very small wealthy elite controls the vast majority of all of the assets, and receives a majority of the income, and a small class of impoverished free persons have almost no assets, and receive only a subsistence income. That doesn't sound at all familiar - does it?

Let's take a look at the ten states with the lowest median household incomes, raked by the percentage by which they deviate from the national average.

Rank: State: Deviation: (median income) Margin Victory for Bush: (points)
1 West Virginia -29% 6
2 Mississippi -25% 17
3 Arkansas -23%
4 Louisiana -22% 8
5 Montana -21% 25
6 Oklahoma -20% 25
7 Kentucky -19% 15
8 Alabama -18% 15
9 New Mexico -18% **Gore by 366 votes**
10 North Dakota -17% 27

Oh my GOD! Holy Shit!

That's a fucking shocker. Six of the ten are deep south states that historically have had economies heavily based on slave labor. Nine of these states went heavily for Bush in 2000, and all of those nine are predicted to go for Bush again.

In conclusion, there does seem to be a very definite relationship in between conservative/Republican ideology and median income. The relationship is that being conservative is a drag on a social group's median income. Obviously, many other factors other than political orientation do affect income, but political orientation does seem to be a contributing factor.

This is something that I do intend to explore further, and in greater depth. Hopefully I will get down to the level of state-by-state analysis, and be able to use other factors, such as measures of the distribution of wealth, and demographic makeup of the population to control for error. But for now, this is something for people to chew on, and hopefully something that will provoke people to start think a little more about how class and wealth affect politics in America.

I don't know why that table is breaking the template and adding all that whitespace, but I don't really care enough to fix it, so just deal with it.

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